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With 3 Plates and 288 Illustrations.
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LONDON : CHATTO & WINDUS, m ST. MARTIN'S LANE, W.C.
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
TRANSLATED BY WALTER MOSTYN
CHATTO & WINDU
WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED.
LONDON AND BECCLBS.
I. -THE VICTIMS OF LIGHTNING ... ... ... 1
II. ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICITY AND STORM-CLOUDS ... 17
HI. THE FLASH AND THE SOUND ... ... ... 31
IV. FIREBALLS ... ... ... ... 57
V. THE EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND ... ... 89
VI. THE EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS ... 128
VII. THE EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES AND PLANTS 155
VIII. THE EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON METALS, OBJECTS,
HOUSES, ETC. ... ... ... ... 188
IX. LIGHTNING CONDUCTORS ... ... ... 240
X. PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING ... 249
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
THE VICTIMS OF LIGHTNING
IT would be an interesting thing to make a careful
study once a year, towards the end of the summer,
of the habits and customs of thunder and lightning.
Perhaps in this way we should succeed one day in
determining the still mysterious nature of these elusive
forces. I, for my part, have been engaged upon the
task for many years past. It has produced a big
accumulation of records, and in this volume I can
find room but for a resume of them, as varied as
possible. In my first chapter I shall present a few
characteristic examples, just to give my readers some
hint of this variety.
Not to go too far back, let us begin with a harmless
I might almost say playful fireball performance,
of which M. Schnaufer, Professor at Marseilles, has
given me the particulars.
In October, 1898, the fireball in question made
2 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
its appearance in a room and advanced towards a
young girl who was seated at the table, her feet
hanging down without touching the floor. The
luminous globe moved along the floor in the girl's
direction, began to rise quite near her and then round
and round her, spiral fashion, darted off towards a
hole in the chimney a hole made for the stove-pipe,
and closed up with glued paper made its way up
the chimney, and, on emerging into the open air,
gave out upon the roof an appalling crash which
shook the entire house. It was a case of coming in
like a lamb and going out like a lion !
A similar occurrence is recorded as having been
observed in Paris, on July 5, 1852, in a tailor's room,
including the same curious detail of the departure
through the hole in the chimney, closed up with paper.
It was in the Rue Saint Jacques, near the Val
de Grace. The fireball burst into the room from
the chimney, knocking over the paper guard in front
of the fireplace. In appearance it suggested a young
cat, gathered up into a ball, as it were, and moving
along without using its paws. It approached the tailor's
legs as though to play with them. The tailor moved
them away to avoid the contact, of which he naturally
was in terror. After some seconds, the globe of fire
rose vertically to the height of the man's face as he
sat, and he, to save himself, leaned quickly back and
THE VICTIMS OF LIGHTNING 3
fell over. The fireball continued to rise, and made
its way towards a hole which had been made at the
top of the chimney for the insertion of a stove-pipe
in the winter, but which, as the tailor put it after-
wards, "the fireball couldn't see, 11 because it was
closed up with paper. The ball stripped off the paper
neatly, entered the chimney quite quietly, and having
risen to the summit, produced a tremendous explosion,
which sent the chimney-top flying, and scattered it
in bits all over the neighbouring courtyard and sur-
There we have a unique occurrence, recorded for
us by Babinet and Arago, and of which I have given
here the exact particulars. In both these cases we have
to note the attraction of the hole in the chimney and
the explosion of the thunderbolt on getting to the
top. But it is not easy to detect the law underlying
In one of the latest volumes of the Association
Francaise a somewhat similar case is dealt with.
"A violent storm," says the writer, M. Wander,
" had descended upon the commune of Beugnon (Deux-
Sevres). I happened to be passing through a farm,
in which were two children of about twelve and
thirteen. These children were taking refuge from the
rain under the door of a stable, in which were twenty-
five oxen. In front of them extended a courtyard,
4 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
sloping downwards towards a large pond, twenty or
thirty yards away, beside which grew a poplar-tree.
Suddenly there appeared a globe of fire, of the size
of an apple, near the top of the poplar. We saw it
descend, branch by branch, and then down the trunk.
It moved along the courtyard very slowly, seeming
almost to pick its way between the pools of water,
and came up to the door where stood the children.
One of them was bold enough to touch it with his
foot. Immediately a terrible crash shook the entire
farm to its foundations, the two children were thrown
to the ground uninjured, but eleven of the animals
in the stable were killed ! "
Who is to explain these anomalies? The child
who touched the fireball escapes with a fright, and
a few feet behind him eleven animals out of twenty-
five perish on the spot !
During the storm which broke out at the town
of Gray, on July 7, 1886, my friend M. Vannesson,
President of the Tribunal, saw a fireball of from thirty
to forty centimetres in diameter, which exploded on
the corner of a roof, cutting clean off the end portion
of the central beam to the length of about half a
yard (like a bundle of matches, but without setting
it on fire), scattering the splinters over the upper
story and loosening the plaster upon the walls below.
It then rebounded on the roofing of a little outside
THE VICTIMS OF LIGHTNING 5
staircase, made a hole in it, smashing and sending
flying the slates, came down upon the road, and rolling
right in the midst of some passers-by who, like the
child in the farm, escaped with a fright disappeared.
My learned fellow-member of the Astronomical
Society of France, Dr. Bougon, has discovered an
account of one of the most remarkable fireballs ever
recorded in La Gloire des Confesseurs, a work written
by Gregory of Tours, the twentieth bishop of that
On the dedication day of an oratory which he had
constructed in one of the outer buildings of the
episcopal palace, all the participants in the procession
from the cathedral, while approaching the oratory
with the sacred relics and singing the litanies, saw
a globe of fire, so intensely brilliant that their eyes
were dazzled, and they could scarcely keep them open.
Seized with terror, priests, deacons, sub-deacons,
choristers, together with the distinguished citizens of
the town, who were carrying the relics upon their
shoulders, all with one accord threw themselves on the
ground, face downward. Then Gregory, remembering
that on the occasion of the death of St. Martin, some
of whose bones were among the relics being carried
from the cathedral, a globe of fire was said to have
been observed to leave the saint's head and ascend
heavenwards, believed himself to be in the presence
6 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
of a miracle, vouchsafed as evidence at once of St.
Martin's sanctity and the genuineness of his relics.
This globe of fire did no damage and burnt nothing.
Discurrebat autem per totam cellulam^ TANQUAM FULGUR,
There is to be seen at the Louvre a picture by
Eustache Lesueur, entitled "La Messe de Saint
Martin," which seemed to me at first to illustrate this
narrative, but the spectators are shown in silent
wonder instead of being prostrated as in the story.
Moreover, Gregory of Tours tells us in his life of
St. Martin, that one day during Mass a globe of fire
was seen to appear above the head of the bishop,
and then to rise heavenwards, to the great edification
of the devout. It was this " miracle, 11 evidently, that
Lesueur intended to represent.
Here is another case of a remarkably harmless
fireball which is often cited.
The Abbe Spallanzani it is who tells the story.
On August 29, 1791, a young peasant woman was
in a field during a storm, when suddenly there appeared
at her feet a globe of fire of about the size of a billiard
ball. Slipping along the ground, this little fireball
reached her feet, caressed them, as it were, made its
way up under her clothes, and issued again from the
middle of her bodice, and, still keeping its globular
form, darted off into the air and exploded noisily.
THE VICTIMS OF LIGHTNING 7
When it got under her petticoats, they blew out like
an umbrella, and she fell back. Two witnesses of the
scene ran to her assistance, but she was unhurt. A
medical examination revealed only a slight erosion of
the skin, extending from the right knee to the middle
of her breast ; her chemise had been torn in two along
the same line, and there was a hole through her bodice
where the thunderbolt had got out.
In the " Memoirs of Du Bellay " the following
very curious narrative is to be found. In all pro-
bability it is a fireball that is in question :
" On March 3, 1557, Diane of France, illegitimate
daughter of Henri II., then the Dauphin, married
Fra^ois de Montmorency. On the night of their
wedding, an oscillating flame came into their bedroom
through the window, went from corner to corner, and
finally to the nuptial bed, where it burnt Diane's hair
and night attire. It did them no other harm, but
their terror can be imagined. 1 '
Perhaps it may be as well to take with a pinch of
salt the statement that the lady's attire was burnt in
this way without harm to her person, yet there are
other authentic stories of a similar kind almost as
In 1897, at Linguy (Eure-et-Loire), a man and his
wife were sleeping quietly, when suddenly a terrible
crash made them jump out of bed. They thought
8 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
their last hour had come. The chimney, broken to
pieces, had fallen in and its wreckage filled the room,
the gable-end was put out and the roof threatened to
come down. The effects of the thunderbolt in the
room itself were less alarming than its effects outside,
but were very curious. For instance, bricks from one
wall had been dashed horizontally against the wall
opposite, with such extraordinary force that they were
to be seen imbedded in it up above a dresser upon which
pots and pans, etc., were ranged, and within a few inches
of the ceiling, while the windows of the room had been
smashed into bits, and a looking-glass, detached from
the wall, stood on end whole and entire upon the floor,
delicately balanced. A chair near the bed, upon which
articles of clothing had been placed, had been spirited
away to a spot near the door. A small lamp and a
box of matches were to be found undamaged upon the
floor. An old gun, suspended from a beam, was
violently shaken and had lost its ramrod.
The thunderbolt actually frolicked over the bed,
leaving its occupants more dead than alive from terror
but quite unhurt. It passed within a few inches of
their heads and passed through a fissure in a partition
into an adjoining dairy, where it carried a whole row of
milk-cans, full of milk, from one side of the room to
another, breaking the lids but not upsetting a single
can. It broke four plates out of a pile of a dozen,
THE VICTIMS OF LIGHTNING 9
leaving the remaining eight intact. It carried away
the tap from a small barrel of wine, which emptied
itself in consequence.
It ended by passing out through the window
without further breakage, leaving the husband and
wife unscathed but panic-stricken.
One of the strangest tricks to which lightning is
addicted is that of undressing its victims. It displays
much more skill and cleverness in such diversions than
is to be found in animals or even in many human
Here is one of the most curious instances of this on
record, as narrated by Morand :
" A woman in man's costume. A storm suddenly
comes on. A flash of lightning strikes her, carries off
and destroys her clothes and boots. She is left stark
naked, and she has to be wrapped up in a cloth and
taken thus to the neighbouring village."
In 1898, at Courcelles-les-Sens, Miles. Philomene
Escalbert, aged 19, Adele Delauffre, aged 22, and
Madame L6onie Legere, aged 44, were standing round
a reaping-machine, when a flash of lightning struck
Madame Legere and killed her on the spot. The two
young girls were stripped to the skin, even their boots
being torn from their feet. Otherwise they were left
safe and sound and astonished.
On October 1, 1868, seven persons took refuge
10 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
during a storm under a huge ash-tree near the village
of Bonello, in the Commune of Ferret (C6tes-du-Nord),
when suddenly the tree was struck by lightning, and
one of them a woman was killed. The six others
were knocked to the ground without being seriously
damaged. The clothes of the woman who had been
killed were torn into shreds, many of which were found
clinging to the branches of the tree.
On May 11, 1869, a farmer at Ardillats was tilling
the ground with his two oxen, not far from his
dwelling-place, about four in the afternoon. The air
was close and heavy, and the sky covered with black
clouds. Suddenly there was a great thunderclap, and
a flash of lightning struck both man and beasts dead
on the spot. The man was found stripped to the skin,
and his boots had been carried thirty yards away.
In July, 1896, at Epervans (Saone-et-Loire), a
young man named Petiot, who was mowing in a
meadow, was struck dead by lightning while lighting
a cigarette, and left in a state of complete nakedness.
On August 11, 1855, a man was struck by lightning
near Vallerois (Haute-Saone), and stripped naked. All
that could be found afterwards of his clothes was a
shirt-sleeve, a few other shreds, and some pieces of his
hobnailed boots. Ten minutes after he was struck he
regained consciousness, opened his eyes, complained of
the cold, and inquired how he happened to be naked.
THE VICTIMS OF LIGHTNING 11
There is no telling what lightning will not do.
Sometimes it will snatch things out of your hand
and carry them right away.
There is a case of a mug being thus spirited away
from a man, who had just been drinking out of it,
and deposited undamaged in a courtyard near the
man himself suffering no injury. A youth of eighteen,
holding up a missal from which he is singing, has it
torn out of his hands and destroyed. A whip is
whisked out of a rider's hand. Two ladies, quietly
knitting, have their knitting-needles stolen. A girl
was sitting at her sewing-machine, a pair of scissors in
her hand ; a flash of lightning, and her scissors are gone
and she is sitting on the sewing-machine. A farmer's
labourer is carrying a pitchfork on his shoulder ; the
lightning seizes it, carries it off fifty yards or so, and
twists its two prongs into corkscrews.
On July 22, 1878, at Gien (Nievre), a woman while
sprinkling her house with holy water during a storm,
saw her holy-water bottle smashed actually in her
fingers by the lightning, which at the same time
smashed up the tiled pavement of the room.
In a church at Dance (Loire) during vespers, one
day in June, 1866, a flash of lightning killed the priest
and all the congregation, knocked over the monstrance
on the altar, and buried the Host in a heap of debris.
On June 28, 1885, the cupola of the Javisy
12 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Observatory, which was not then provided with a
lightning conductor, was struck by lightning. An
enormous piece of oak from un angle de construction
was torn to shreds, and one splinter was lodged in
the hinge of a window behind the pivot, in the part
between the pivot and the frame, hardly a twenty-fifth
of an inch apart, and this without breaking the glass.
In other cases lightning has been known to split
men in two, almost as with a huge axe. On January
20, 1868, this happened to a miller's assistant in a
windmill at Groix. The lightning struck him, and
split him from his head downwards in two.
In the course of July, 1844, four inhabitants of
Heiltz-le-Maurupt, near Vitry-le-Franpoise, took refuge
under trees during a storm, three of them under a
poplar, and the fourth under a willow, against which
doubtless he leaned. In a few minutes this one was
struck by lightning. A bright flame was observed to
be issuing from his clothes, but he remained standing,
and seemed unconscious of what had happened.
" You're on fire ! You're on fire ! " exclaimed his
friends. Getting no reply, they went up to where he
was, and found to their horror that he was a corpse.
A clergyman named Butler was a witness of the
following incident, which took place at Everdon. Ten
harvest-men took refuge under a lodge on the approach
of a storm. There was a thunderclap, and in a moment
THE VICTIMS OF LIGHTNING 13
four of them were killed by lightning. One of them
was found dead, still holding between finger and thumb
a pinch of snuff he had been in the act of taking. A
second had one hand upon the head of a small dog, also
killed, and still sitting upon his knees, and in the other
hand a piece of bread ; a third was sitting, his eyes
open, facing in the direction from which the storm
At Castellane, in August, 1898, during a violent
storm, a flock of sheep was struck by lightning while
crossing the mountain of Peyresy. Seventy-five of
them were killed. The shepherd escaped. The sheep
probably were all wet from the rain, and clinging
together in one great mass. In the same month a
pond at Vauxdimes (Cote-d'Or) was demolished, and all
the fish in it killed.
Quite recently, a young man at Franxault (Cote-
d'Or) was killed by lightning on his way home from
work. All the nails were found to have been torn out
of his shoes, and the links of his silver watch-chain
were all moulded together. To fuse silver in this way
a heat of 957 degrees is needed !
On July 5, 1883, at Buffon (C6te-d 1 Or), a woman
had one of her earrings melted in the same way, but she
was not killed. On the same day at Void (Meuse) two
workmen, who had taken shelter under a willow, were
thrown a distance of four yards without being killed.
14 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
On August 10, of the same year, at Chanvres
(Yonne), a vine-dresser was struck by lightning and
killed, but his heart continued to beat for thirty hours.
Dr. Gaultier de Claubry was struck by lightning,
with the extraordinary result that his beard was taken
off him, roots and all, so that it never grew again.
At Fresneaux (Oise), a young girl of twenty, Mile.
Laure Leloup, had her head shorn by lightning. A
wide furrow was to be traced on the crown of her head,
caused by the electric fluid. Her hair was removed
right down to the skin as though by a razor.
On September 4, 1898, a flash of lightning lit up
all the electric lamps in the Prefecture of Lyon.
Really it is extraordinary the queer things lightning
will do ! Death in one case, an innocent practical joke
in another ! I have hundreds of quaint records before
me. Impossible to deduce any kind of law from them
all. You are tempted to believe that the electric
current has a brain.
A young woman was picking cherries off a rather
tall cherry-tree. A young man stood underneath. The
young woman was struck by lightning, and fell dead.
This was in July, 1885.
In September, 1898, at Remaines, near Ramerupt
(Aube), a certain M. Finot, an innkeeper, was standing
on his doorstep looking out at a storm, when a flash of
lightning followed by a thunderclap sent him flying
THE VICTIMS OF LIGHTNING 15
back into the hall. He remained unconscious for a
time, and his sight was affected for ten hours. The
extraordinary thing, however, in his case was that he
had been a victim of rheumatism until then, and walked
with difficulty and only with a stick, and that ever
since this occurrence he has been able to do without
the stick, and to pursue his avocations quite comfort-
ably. He feels that he has no reason to regret his
experience, though he is not anxious to go through
anything of the kind again. This kind of electrical
phenomenon might be catalogued under the title
" Medicinal Lightning."
Now for a case of " Judicial Lightning."
On July 20, 1872, a negro named Norris was hanged
in the State of Kentucky for having killed a mulatto,
a fellow- workman of his. At the moment of his setting
foot upon the scaffold, there was a terrible clap of
thunder, and the condemned man was struck dead by
lightning. The sheriff was so much moved by the
occurrence that he resigned his office.
Let us wind up this little collection of strange cases
with another occurrence reported from the United States.
An immense grange had been built by a man
named Abner Millikan, an ardent republican, who
adorned the front walls of his farm with portraits of
MacKinley and Hobart. During a violent storm that
broke out, the building was struck by lightning several
16 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
times, and it looked as though it were enveloped in
great sheets of flame. Millikan, who had been at some
distance from the spot, rushed thither much alarmed,
and found to his relief that no damage had been done.
The portraits alone had been destroyed, and here is
the strange detail the lightning had traced the
politicians' features upon the wall.
Certainly lightning plays queer pranks. And I
have said nothing yet of the photographs lightning
Pranks they seem to us, but we may be sure there
is some method in their mischievousness. It is the
same with women. Women in their caprices are
but obeying some law of nature. They are not so
capricious as they seem.
These strange facts teach us, anyway, not for the
first time, that our knowledge of the universe is still
very incomplete, and that its study is worth following
up in all its chapters.
We may be certain that electricity exercises a much
more important influence in nature than is generally
supposed, and that it plays a role in our own lives
which is still practically unrecognized. In the oppres-
sion we feel before the coming of a storm, and the sense
of relief we experience when it has passed, we have an
instance of the way in which physical and moral in-
fluences are apt to blend or overlap.
ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICITY AND STORM-CLOUDS
WITH such strange facts before us facts the strange-
ness and diversity of which baffle all hypotheses and
forbid all definite conclusions we can but keep adding
to our observations and accumulating other facts which
may tend to elucidate the mystery. The terrible
ravages caused every year by lightning make it necessary
for us to find some means of preventing the recurrence
of certain memorable catastrophes. It is only in the
actual investigation of the phenomenon, in the study
of all its smallest manifestations, that we can hope to
discover the methods of the mysterious power.
From the earliest times mankind has devoted much
thought to the subject. If we glance back towards
past centuries we find that thunder and lightning have
ever been regarded as a terrible agent of the will of
the powers above.
The strongest and subtlest brains of antiquity,
Anaxagoras, Aristotle, Seneca, were unable to form
any kind of reasonable view regarding the fantastic
18 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
phenomena resulting from the force of nature and held
so mysterious to us moderns. Thunder and lightning
were generally believed by them to be due to emana-
tions from the earth or to vapours contained in the air.
The Etruscans, who flourished fifteen hundred years
before Christ, and who were much given to the study
of nature, are said to have observed the tendency of
lightning to make for points, but no theory upon the
subject has come down to us from them.
Electricity for the ancients was an unpluinbed ocean,
whose slightest fluctuations affected them in ways they
could not understand. In vain they appealed to their
gods to help them to explain the enigma. Olympus
turned a deaf ear to their prayers.
Their imagination exhausted itself in researches
into the nature of such things as amber, in which they
recognized the curious attribute of attraction and
repulsion for objects of slight weight. The poets
attributed it to the tears of Phaeton's sisters, lament-
ing over the dreams of Eridan. Certain naturalists
regarded it as a kind of gum issuing from trees during
the dry days. No one gave any thought to electricity,
by whose subtle fluid the earth and everything upon it
is penetrated and enveloped.
The superstitions connected with lightning would
furnish forth material in themselves for a very curious
volume of stories half comic, half tragic.
ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICITY 19
With the Romans the fall of a thunderbolt was
always taken as an omen. In the reign of Domitian,
thunder was to be heard once so constantly during a
period of eight months that the tyrant, frightened by
the bombardment from on high, at last cried out in his
terror : " Let the blow come, then, where it will ! "
The stroke fell upon the capitol, and upon the temple of
the Flavian family, as well as upon the emperor's palace
and the very room in which he slept. The inscription
beneath the triumphal statue was even torn away by
the tempest and thrown into a neighbouring garden.
Otto de Guerike, burgomaster of Magdeburg and
inventor of the air-pump, was the first person to
discover the means of producing the electric spark,
about 1650. About the same time, Dr. Wall, while
watching electricity being released from a roll of
amber, noticed a spark and a sudden sharp report,
suggestive of a minute flash of lightning, followed
by a minute peal of thunder. The analogy was
striking. This discovery opened out a new horizon
to physicists, and almost immediately the feeble electric
light produced by the hand of man came to be
associated with the monstrous sheaves of fire let loose
in space by unknown forces.
L'Abbe Nollet, considered in the France of his time
as an oracle in regard to natural philosophy, expressed
himself as follows upon this subject : "If some one, after
20 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
comparing the phenomena, were to undertake to prove
that thunder is in the hands of nature what electricity
is in ours, that those electrical wonders with which we
are now able to make so much play are petty imitations
of those great lightning effects which frighten us ; that
both result from the same mechanism ; and if he could
make it evident that a cloud produced by the action of
the winds, by heat, and by the mingling of exhalations,
bears the same relation to a terrestrial object as an
electrified body bears to an unelectrified body in its
close proximity, I admit that the idea, if well worked
out, would captivate me greatly ; and, to work it out,
how many plausible arguments there are at the disposal
of a man who is properly versed in electricity ! "
The invention of the Leyden jar in 1746, and Frank-
lin's brilliant investigations, make these conjectures the
more probable. Since then electricity has gone ahead
and become one of the most important branches of
modern natural philosophy.
When Franklin demonstrated that the air is in a
permanent condition of electrification even when the
sky is clear, people began to study not thunder alone
but the general electrical state of the atmosphere.
And ever since meteorological observatories have made it
a practice to register every day the degree and nature
of atmospheric electricity by the use of very ingenious
ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICITY 21
But the records obtained up till now leave us in
doubt upon many points. The subject is still full of
Whence come those masses of electricity which move
about in the clouds, sometimes escaping from them in
thunderclaps and causing such tremendous ravages
upon this earth of ours ? The evaporation of the sea
is one of their principal causes.
The atmosphere is continually impregnated with
electric effluvia which flow silently through the soil
through the medium of all bodies, organized or not,
attached to the earth's surface. Plants afford an
especially welcome pathway to this fluid. The green
leaves you see rustling in the wind are often being
traversed by electrical currents, luckily harmless, of
precisely the same nature as those of the deadly
lightning. On the other hand, the earth itself emits
a certain quantity of electricity, and it is from the
attraction exerted by these two fluids upon each other
that thunder comes into existence. To put it in
another way, thunder is a sudden striking of a balance
between two different masses of electricity.
Minute researches have established the fact that in
ordinary conditions the terrestrial globe is charged
with resinous, or negative electricity, while the atmo-
sphere holds in suspension vitree, or positive electricity.
In two words, our planet and its aerial envelope
22 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
are two great reservoirs of electricity, between which
take place continual exchanges which play a role
in the life of plants and animals complementary to
that which is played by warmth and moisture.
The aurora borealis, which sometimes illumines,
with a brilliancy as of fairyland, the dar. ness of night
in the Arctic and all the regions of the North, finds its
explanation in the same phenomenon. It also is a
striking of a balance, silent but visible, between two
opposing tensions of the atmosphere and the earth;
thus the apparition of the aurora borealis in Sweden or
Norway is accompanied by electric currents moving
through the earth to a distance sufficiently great to
cause the magnetic needle to record the occurrence in
the Paris Observatory.
Indeed, the electricity which pervades the earth,
silently and invisibly, is identical with that which
moves in the heights of the enveloping atmosphere, and,
whether it be positive or negative, its essential unity
remains the same, these qualities serving only to
indicate a point, more or less in common, between the
different charges. The heights of the atmosphere are
more powerfully electrified than the surface of the
globe, and the degree of electricity increases in the
atmosphere with the distance from the earth.
Atmospheric electricity undergoes, like warmth, and
like atmospheric pressure, a double fluctuation, yearly
ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICITY 23
and daily, as well as accidental fluctuations more
considerable than the regular ones. The maximum
comes between six and seven in the morning in summer,
and between ten and twelve in winter ; the mini-
mum comes between five and six in the afternoon in
summer, and about three in the afternoon in winter.
There is a second maximum at sunset, followed by a
diminution during the night until sunrise. This fluctu-
ation is connected with that of the hygrometric
condition of the air. In the annual fluctuation the
maximum comes in January, and the minimum in
July ; it is due to the great atmospherical circulation ;
the winter is the time when the equatorial currents are
most active in our hemisphere, and when the aurora
borealis is to be seen most often.
On the other hand, the water of oceans and rivers is
continually evaporating under the influence of solar
heat, and rises into the atmosphere, where it remains
in the form of an invisible gaseous vapour. Soon it
becomes cold again, and, in the process of condensation,
transparent gaseous molecules become transformed into
minute drops, which accumulate into a cloud.
Generally speaking, clouds are, like the atmosphere,
charged with positive electricity. Sometimes, however,
there are negative clouds. You may frequently see, on
the summits of mountains, clouds which seem to cling
to the peaks for a while, as though drawn to them by
24 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
some force of attraction, and then move away to follow
the general direction of the winds. It often happens
that in this case the clouds have lost their positive
electricity in thus coming in contact with the moun-
tains, and have derived from them in its place the
negative electricity which, instead of holding them,
has a tendency to drive them off. A mass of clouds
lying between the negative earth and a mass of positive
clouds above is almost neutral ; the positive electricity
accumulates towards its lower surface, and the first
drops of rain will make it disappear. This mass will,
from that moment, become like the surface of the soil
that is to say, it will become negative under the
influence of the mass above it, endowed with a strong
The cloud remains suspended in space until the
moment when, under the influence of the ambient
medium, it dissolves in rain.
The causes of the instability of clouds are very
numerous. My readers are aware that the atmosphere
is being constantly agitated by vast currents which pass
from the equator to the poles, and from which the
different winds result.
The clouds take part in this universal whirl of
atmospheric waves. Transported from one point to
another often far beyond the region where they
came into existence subjected to every vicissitude of
ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICITY 25
atmosphere, and blown about by contrary currents,
they follow the gigantic movements which take the
form sometimes of cyclones and tempests.
Under the influence of warmth, and probably also
by its transformation, these movements engender great
masses of electricity, and presently, when the clouds
have become saturated with it, the electricity breaks
out, and there is a thunderstorm.
The electric fluid, escaped from the cloud in which
it has been imprisoned, flies to unite itself, either with
the negative electricity stored in the surface of the
earth, or else with the electricity in other neighbouring
clouds. Almost always the cloud torn open by the
electric discharge dissolves in rain or hail.
Thus a storm is the outcome of violent move-
ments produced by the force of electricity when this
has reached its maximum of intensity. Thunderstorms
are generally heralded by certain premonitory signs.
The barometer goes down steadily. The air, calm and
heavy, is pervaded by a bitter sulphurous odour. The
heat is stifling. An abnormal silence reigns over the
land. All this has a remarkable effect upon certain
organisms, and produces nervous complaints, a buzzing
in the ears, a sense of painful oppression, a sort of
good-for-nothingness that we combat in vain.
In most cases storms come to us in France ready
made, so to speak, from the sea, borne in by the
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
currents from the south-west; they are the off-shoots
of the cyclones, and are born in the tropics, moving in
lines from the south-west to the north-east. Ordinarily
they lose part of their strength en route and come
to an end suddenly with us.
There are, of course, home-made storms also, so to
speak, especially in France during our hot summers,
when the sun is shining all the day, and thus pro-
moting the rapid evaporation of our seas and rivers.
The air is charged with a heavy mist which veils
the horizon ; the barometer is going down, the
thermometer going up. The sun looks leaden though
there are no clouds. When it approaches the meridian
and its rays are most scorching, columns of vapour
ascend and become condensed into the light clouds
termed cirri. At the end of some hours these clouds
become attracted to each other, descend a little, and
become grouped together into what look like great
masses of cotton-wool. These are termed cumuli.
Presently a small grey cloud joins the others. It looks
innocent and harmless, but very often this is the
beginning of the battle. First there ensues, perhaps,
a discharge or two of lightning without casualties, but
soon the bombardment becomes general, and long
blinding fusillades flash through space. The heavens,
darkened over, seem to have sunk quite low, and to
have become a great black mass, from which the
ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICITY 27
lightning escapes in sudden jets. Rain and hail pelt
down upon the earth to an accompaniment of the
rumbling of thunder. Confusion has fallen upon the
Then, finally, the fight comes to a close. The
clouds disperse and allow us to see once again a wide
expanse of sunlit blue. The birds, their hearts freed
again from terror, begin to sing again. Flowers and
foliage and soil, refreshed by the rain, give out sweet
perfumes. An immense joy takes the place of the
sense of melancholy and oppression. It is good to see
the sun again ! Alas, though, there are grim realities
to be faced presently. The hailstones have destroyed
the crops and begotten famine the lightning has sown
death and plunged whole families into mourning. It
is with these misfortunes before us that we make up
our minds to do what in us lies to diminish the
destructiveness of this terrible force.
How are storm-clouds to be detected ?
Generally speaking, their shape is very clearly
defined, and they have a look of solidity about them.
Their lower surface is often unbroken, presenting a
level plain from which there rise huge ragged pro-
tuberances like great plumes. Sometimes, on the other
hand, they have great projections underneath, trailing
quite near the ground.
Storm-clouds move generally in large numbers,
28 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
and are generally composed of two separate masses,
differently electrified the lower one giving out negative
electricity, the higher positive electricity. The flashes
of lightning occur generally between these two masses,
though also, less frequently, between the lower mass
and the earth.
It may be said that, generally speaking, storms are
the result of the meeting of two masses of clouds
For long, physicists refused to admit the validity of
any other theory, and combated in particular the idea
that lightning could issue from a single isolated cloud.
This has, however, been established now as a fact,
and in such cases the flashes have always, of course,
taken place between the cloud and the earth.
Marcorelle, of Toulouse, reports that on September
12, 1747, the sky being then pure and cloudless but
for one round speck, there was suddenly a thunder-
clap and a flash which killed a woman on the spot,
burning her breast but doing no damage to her
Here is another interesting case. Two priests of
the Cathedral of Lombey, who were standing in the
area of their chapter-house, busy winnowing, saw a
small cloud approaching them little by little. When
it was immediately above them a flash of lightning
broke out and struck a tree just beside them,
ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICITY 29
splitting it from top to bottom. They heard no
thunderclap. The weather was quite fine. There
was no wind, and this was the only cloud in the sky.
Storms are far more prevalent in some countries
than in others. According to Pliny, thunder was
unknown in Egypt, and, according to Plutarch, in
Abyssinia. This could not be said now, however,
perhaps because these lands have grown unworthy of
their exemption. It might be said, however, of Peru,
whose pure and limpid skies are never troubled by
tempest. Jupiter tonans must be a myth indeed to a
people who know nothing of thunderclaps or wet days.
Storms diminish in number in high latitudes, but
there are local conditions which affect their distribution.
Then they are particularly frequent in countries that
are thickly wooded and in mountainous districts.
Arago came to the conclusion, after a considerable
number of observations, that, out in the open sea
or among islands, there is no thunder in the north
beyond the 75th degree of latitude. This is not
absolutely so, but it is a fact that storms are very
much rarer in the polar regions. They become more
and more frequent towards the equator, and are very
numerous in the tropics.
On either side of the equator storms come year
after year with remarkable regularity in the wet season,
and at the time of the monsoons.
30 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
At Guadeloupe and Martinique there is never any
thunder in December, January, February, or March.
In temperate climates there are scarcely any storms
in winter ; they begin in the spring, and attain their
maximum of intensity in the heat of summer.
In Italy there are thunderstorms at almost all
times of the year.
In Greece they come chiefly in spring and autumn.
It is noticeable that in all latitudes they come most
often in the afternoon.
THE FLASH AND THE SOUXD
THE Romans attributed a mysterious influence to each
manifestation of electricity. They divided lightning
into individual and family lightning, lightning of
advice, monitory, explanatory, expostulatory, confirma-
tory, auxiliary, disagreeable, perfidious, pestiferous,
menacing, murderous, etc., etc.
They adapted it to every taste and circumstance,
but modern science has come to put order into this
When a cloud is superabundantly charged with
electricity, this electricity, which is compressed in the
cloudy envelope, tries to escape in order to join the
electricity accumulated either in another cloud or on
the ground. An electric deflagration ensues, and a
long ignited dart precipitates itself into space, "showing
us on a large scale what our experience of physics has
taught us in a small way in oui laboratories. This
luminous and often dazzling trail constitutes lightning.
Lightning is not always the same, and in order to
32 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
classify the different forms it takes more easily, it can
be divided into three groups diffused lightning,
linear lightning, and fireballs. This last is the most
curious of the three. The variety and eccentricity of
fireballs are celebrated in the history of lightning, and
I propose to devote the following chapter to their
Diffused lightning is the commonest of all. You can
count hundreds of flashes on a stormy night. Occasion-
ally they succeed one another with such rapidity
that the sky is momentarily entirely illumined with a
fantastic brightness. At these times great sombre
clouds can be seen surging from the darkness of the
night, to shine suddenly with an ephemeral brightness
of a diffused red, blue, or violet tinge. Their irregular
shapes, with their jagged edges of light, are visible
against the dark background of the heavens, and the
thunder growls monotonously. Whether the exchange
of electricity is produced on a vast stretch between two
rows of clouds, or whether it is manifested by a long
thin spark launched like an arrow and veiled by the
curtain of clouds, all that can be seen is a strange light,
vague, diaphanous, instantaneous, which sometimes
spreads itself like a sheet of fire all over the horizon.
It is diffused lightning which gives us the finest
storm effects on those heavy summer evenings when
the air is breathless and saturated with electricity.
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 33
Suddenly the clouds are illumined, nebulous veils of
light on which can be seen, in sombre fantastic,
fugitive vision, the outlines of the trees, houses, and
other landmarks. Then, all at once, heaven and earth
fall back into a darkness deeper than before, owing to
Linear lightning is more terrible. It is regarded
by astronomers as the most perfect form of destructive
lightning. It is a strong flash a thin trail of light
very clear, and extraordinarily rapid, which shoots from
an electric cloud to the earth, or from one cloud to
Like a supple and undulating serpent of fire, it
twists itself luminously into . space, spreading itself
menacingly in the heavens with its long spirals of
Sometimes in a hurry, no doubt, to reach its prey
it effects its passage in a straight line, but as a
rule it follows a sinuous track, and forms itself into
a zigzag at an obtuse angle. The different forms
which this lightning takes are no doubt attributable
to various causes. One of the chief of these seems
to be the unequal distribution of humidity in the air,
which renders it a more or less good conductor. In
fact, fulminic matter is strongly attracted towards
damp regions, and goes quickly from one point to
another, guided in its chosen way by the hygrometrical
34 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
conditions of the atmosphere ; and it is these constant
changes of direction which determine the meanderings
of its course. Thus the lightning would trace a sort
of plan of the hygrometrical state of the air for a
certain portion of the atmosphere. For it, the short
road is hardly ever the straight line.
On the other hand, the variability of the over-
loading of electricity has something to say to the
form it takes.
Sometimes lightning forms itself into two or three
branches, and becomes forked lightning. Or it even
divides itself into a number of points from a principal
branch, out of which a great many sparks burst forth.
These incandescent sheaves move through space with
extraordinary agility. It has not been possible to
measure their speed with absolute accuracy, but their
rapidity is such that their transit appears to be
instantaneous. The latest researches seem to have
proved that their speed is superior to that of light,
which is 300,000 kilometres a second.
Lightning is not always of a dazzling whiteness,
it is often yellow, red, blue, violet, or green. Its
colour depends on the quantity of the electricity
thrown on the atmosphere by the discharge; on the
density of the air at the time of the passage of the
ignited matter ; on its hygrometrical state, and on
the substances which it contains during suspension.
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 35
It has been remarked in the study of physics that the
electric spark is white in the open air, but that it
gets a violet tinge in the vacuum of a pneumatic
This proves that violet lightning comes from the
far-off' regions of the atmosphere. It traverses a bed
of rarified air, and shows the great height of the storm-
clouds from which it emanates.
The fulminating spark is so fugitive that it is
difficult to form an idea of its length. One could
easily take it to be a yard or so long, so illusory and
deceptive are our impressions. As a matter of fact,
it is proved that flashes of lightning cover a distance
of several kilometres.
There are various methods to which one can have
recourse in these scientific researches. The first, which
gives the length of horizontal lightning, is based on
a minute comparison between the trajectory described
by the meteor and the known distance of the ter-
restrial points between which it travels. In order to
gauge the extent of vertical lightning, you must
estimate approximately the height of the clouds from
which it comes, based on the irregularities of the earth
of which the height is known.
But there is a still simpler method for approximate
measurement within the reach of every one. It con-
sists in multiplying 337 (the number of yards traversed
36 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
by sound in a second) by the number of seconds during
which the thunder lasts.
These methods all give the same result, and prove
that lightning is often 1, 5, and 10 kilometres in
length. The greatest length proved up to the present
has been 18 kilometres. When one thinks of the
instantaneousness of these flashes, one marvels at their
incomparable agility, and we can only be lost in
admiration of the magic force of the heavenly sling,
which is capable of hurling these whole rivers of fire
to roll in their sinuous course right through space,
and in a space of time almost inappreciable to our
Yet, in spite of the extreme rapidity of the
lightning, it has been possible to determine that these
meteors do not last the thousandth part of a second.
To prove this, we take a circle of cardboard, divided
from the middle into black and white sections. This
circle can be turned like a wheel almost as quickly
as one can wish. We know that luminous impressions
remain on the retina the tenth part of a second;
thus, if we imitate the childish game of turning a
lighted coal if the turn is made in the tenth of a
second, each successive position of the coal remaining
impressed on the retina for the same length of time
we have a continuous circle. In turning our cardboard
wheel with the black and white spokes, if each spoke
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 37
passes before our eyes in less than the tenth of a
second, we can no longer distinguish between the
sections, but can only see a grey circle. But we can
make it rotate a hundred turns or more in a second ;
this being done, if we continue to observe the circle,
we can no longer see the lines, they succeed each other
more quickly in our eyes than the impression they
produce. But if the circle turns before us in the
darkness, and it is suddenly lighted up and as suddenly
darkened, the impression produced on our eyes by
each of the sections would last less than the tenth
of a second, and the circle would appear to us as if
it were stationary. In applying a calculated rotation
to this contrivance, Charles Wheatstone has proved that
some lightning does not last the thousandth part of
a second. This measure is probably a minimum ; in
the majority of cases the duration of lightning is
longer than this.
Often during the hot, transparent summer nights,
we see a considerable number of flashes, which furrow
the firmament with their gentle, bluish light. These
fugitive gleams remind us in the sky of the will-o'-
the-wisps, which come forth silently from marshy
ground. The atmosphere is pure ; there are no ap-
parent traces of a storm, and yet the sky is glistening
with thousands of small flames. The flashes succeed
one another almost without interruption. These
38 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
electric sparks are known as heat-lightning, but this
is quite inaccurate, and has no meaning in the language
of modern science.
In a great number of cases an astronomer would
be able to discover certain characteristic signs in-
dicating that a storm is taking place under the
horizon at a very great distance from the point of
observation. It is only at the moment when the sky
is lighted up that one can see the ridge of clouds
lying low on the horizon. At other times there is
no sign of a storm, as far as the eye can see. The
atmosphere is quite clear, and yet the sky is swept
with a number of electric flashes. But afterwards
you hear that a violent storm has devastated the
region over which the gleams have appeared, and that
it is to this that they are attributable. They are
only reflected lights.
A sailor tells us that once when he was out at
sea, more than 100 kilometres from Lima, he saw
a number of bright flashes, without any thunder, to
the east and north-east of the horizon. The weather
was perfect, and the sky absolutely serene. Now we
know that storms, and the electric phenomena which
they produce, are unknown upon that coast; but
this immunity does not extend for more than 100
kilometres to the interior of this country, so that
this lightning which was observed at sea, 100 kilometres
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 39
from the shore, must have taken place more than
200 kilometres away.
One of our correspondents, M. Soleyre of Constan-
tine, sent us word, in 1899, of an interesting case of
lightning without thunder.
" In August," he says, " I noticed it in the valley
of the Arve above Salambes ; when I came back to
Algiers I saw it again on September 16, and on
" It was not sheet lightning, but ordinary lightning
concentrated in very thin lines. This lasted long, and
was very near. Another thing, there was no hail. This
is not very rare in Algiers."
On September 1, 1901, 1 happened to be in Geneva
at about 6 p.m. The weather was heavy but very fine.
I noticed a good deal of lightning on the south-west
of the horizon. It went on almost without interruption
above the Savoy Alps. Each flash illuminated at the
same time the ridge of the mountains and the fringed
edge of the great sombre clouds lying low on the
horizon. This lightning was silent ; the noise of the
thunder did not reach Geneva. The next day I learnt
that a terrible storm had devastated the neighbourhood
of Chambery and Aix-les-Bains.
Moreover, apart from storms, there have been other
records of this lighting up of the sky being observed at
40 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Thus, in 1803, a service of luminous communica-
tions was established on Mount Brocken in the Hartz
Mountains in order to determine the differences of
longitude. The combustion of 180 to 200 grammes of
powder, burnt in the open air, for each of the signals,
produced a light which was observed by astronomers
stationed on Mount Kenlenberg, although they were 240
kilometres from Brocken, which is itself invisible from
On certain fete-days, July 14, for example, when
the principal monuments in Paris are illuminated, at
a distance of 20 and 30 kilometres we can see a sort
of luminous vapour which floats above the town and
reflects the lights of the boulevards, although the
lights themselves are invisible from the point of
Here is another example which any Parisian can
verify : the captive balloon of the Aerodrome at Porte-
Maillot, which soars some hundreds of yards above Paris
during the spring and summer, as seen from the dark
paths of the Bois de Boulogne, appears against the
azure of the sky like a magnificent globe bathed in
light, resembling an enormous moon. Well, this gentle,
pale light is only the reflection of the lights of Paris
which are invisible from the Bois de Boulogne.
The earth and all the planets which are dark in
themselves, shine in space lighted up by the sun.
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 41
The silent lightning which flashes in the sky is
only the reflection of a distant storm. Whether on
account of the spherical shape of the earth or on account
of the irregularities of the land, the clouds are invisible,
but the effluvium which escapes from them can be seen
at a great distance.
These poetic and ephemeral flames which glide
through the sky, appeal to the imagination of the
dreamer, and yet they are quite as terrible as the flashes
which are accompanied by thunder. If the noise which
accompanies these is not perceptible, it is because the
sound of the thunder does not carry far, and has been
lost in space before reaching us.
It is the same with the silent lightning which
gleams in a stormy sky. This phenomenon is particu-
larly frequent in the Antilles. Either the storm breaks
too far from the observer, or the discharge has taken
place between two beds of clouds, the lower of which
intercepts the waves of sound without preventing the
escape of the electric spark, and the thunder is not
As a rule we imagine that lightning always descends,
that it comes to us from the higher celestial regions to
be lost in the common reservoir. But this is quite
inaccurate. Lightning sometimes ascends. Sometimes
it descends and reascends. That is to say, after it
reaches the ground, either there is no attraction there,
42 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
or a stronger force draws it back to the aerial regions,
and it flies back to the clouds whence it came.
As a rule we only fear the direct lightning. This
is a great mistake. There are many cases of lightning
striking from a distance.
For example, at the end of May, 1866, an English
coastguard was making his rounds on the coast of one
of the Shetland Isles, when a flash of lightning passed
near him, striking a great rock. The unfortunate man
was completely blinded, and plunged into darkness
thus suddenly, he would inevitably have fallen down an
abyss, if his companions, attracted by his cries, had not
come to the rescue and taken him home.
Here is another case :
On September 24, 1826, a terrible storm burst over
Versailles, accompanied by a great deal of thunder and
lightning. At the moment when the lightning struck
Galli's farm, an old man who was in a street in
Versailles, at a distance of two kilometres from the
farm, suddenly felt a violent shock, accompanied by a
feeling of oppression and giddiness and a semi-paralysis
of the tongue and the whole of his left side. Next
morning this had passed away, but in the evening at
the same time as the shock had occurred, he felt
similar sensations of fainting, and it was the same to
the end of the week. It would be well to remark here
that at the moment of the accident, M. B
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 43
happened to be near the wall of a house, not far from
the metallic tube which conducted the rain-water into
the level of the pavement.
The following phenomenon, to which we have
already alluded, is no less curious :
On July 22, 1868, at about 7 o'clock in the
evening, at Gien-sur-Cure (Nievre), the thunder had
been growling violently for some time, when all of a
sudden the lightning struck a thatched house, which it
set on fire. At the same time a woman who was in a
house ten yards away, felt a shock, and saw the tiled
floor rise beneath her. Her two sabots were broken
on her feet, and a bottle of Holy Water with which she
was blessing the house was broken in her hand, only
the neck remained in her fingers. She herself suffered
nothing but the shock. Nineteen of the tiles were flung
in all directions.
Here is another very remarkable case of ascending
lightning 1 , published in the Comptes Rendus of the
Academic des Sciences :
At Porto- Alegre, on June 9, 1870, at 2 a.m.,
during a violent storm, on the property of M. Laranja
e Oliveira, at Brazil, a servant was entering the house ;
he was about ten yards away, when a flash of lightning
illuminated it; at the same moment he felt a great
tingling in the flesh of his feet, then in his legs, then
all over his body, and finally in his head, on which the
44 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
hair stood on end to such an extent that Tie was obliged
to hold his hat on in order to prevent its falling off.
At the same time, a white flame burst from the ground
about two yards in front of him, accompanied by a
shower of sparks. Terrified by such a phenomenon,
which he attributed to souls from another world, he
thought he was petrified to the spot; finally, he ran
away. Anything metallic which he had about him at
the time of this occurrence became magnetized. A key
which was in his pocket remained magnetic for two
Thus, as well as the ordinary fulguration, in which
the lightning (which we imagine descends from the
clouds) acts directly on the body, and the lightning
which strikes indirectly, there are other electric shocks
which can be experienced by men and animals. Notable
among these is the striking from the earth, commonly
known as choc de retour, and which is in reality only
an instance of the ascending current, or of lightning
striking from a distance. We must also describe the
striking by a man who has been struck.
The Abbe Richard, in his Histoire de VAir, tells the
following story :
In the neighbourhood of the village of Rumigny, in
Picardy, on August 20, 1769, at six o'clock in the
morning, there was a sudden irruption of fulminating
matter from the bosom of the earth in such quantities
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 45
as to produce the most violent results. The sky was
cloudy, and looked like a storm. A young farmer and
his wife were following, at some distance, a vehicle
drawn by four horses. Suddenly the driver of this,
without seeing the lightning or hearing the thunder, was
thrown to the earth. His four horses were stretched
dead on the ground near the carriage. There was a
smoking hole in the ground, from which the effluvium
came forth and killed the young man and his wife at
ten paces off and separated from each other by twenty
paces. The current also knocked down, at a hundred
paces, the father of the young man in the same fashion
as it had done the driver, but without injuring one or
The bodies showed no signs of a wound, only
a considerable swelling and a great deformity of the
features. The woman, who was young and pretty,
became hideous ; the whole of her body as well as that
of her husband was absolutely yellow. The four horses
had their intestines drawn from their bodies. They
were all thrown on the same side. The man's hat was
pierced and his hair burnt, but he had no bruise on his
This account, in which we must not be surprised to
find the ideas and language of the time (let us observe
in passing that the man who was struck did not hear
the thunder, and had not even time to see the lightning
46 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
of which he was the victim) this account, I say, gives
us an instance of ascending lightning. Here is another.
The traveller Brydone gives the following example,
which he himself observed :
On July 19, 1785, a storm burst near Coldstream
between 12 and 1 a.m. A woman who was cutting hay
on the banks of the Tweed fell backwards. She at
once called to her companions, and said she had just
received a violent blow on her foot for which she could
in no way account. At the time there was no thunder
or lightning in the sky. The shepherd of a farm at
Lennel Hill saw a sheep fall near him, which a few
minutes before appeared to be in perfect health ; he
found it stone dead. The storm then appeared very
far off. Two carts laden with coal, and each driven
by a young driver seated on a small seat in front,
crossed over the Tweed. They had just climbed a
small hill near the banks of this river when they heard
a great detonation round about, similar to that which
would be produced by the discharge of several guns.
At the same instant the driver of the second cart saw
the first, with his companion and the two horses, fall to
the ground. The driver and horses were stone dead.
The ground was pierced with three circular holes at the
very spot where the wheels had touched it when the
accident happened. Half an hour after this event the
holes emitted an odour which Brydone compared to
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 47
that of ether. The two circular iron bands which
covered the felloes of the wheels showed evident signs
of fusion in the two spots which rested on the ground
at the moment of the detonation, and in no other
place. The skin of the horses had been burnt, particu-
larly about the legs and under the stomach. The body
of the driver had marks of burning here and there.
His. clothes, his shirt, and, above all, his hat, were
reduced to shreds, and gave out a strong smell.
Orioli gives an example of two men who were
surprised by a violent storm near the village of Ben-
venide. They lay down on the ground to let the
meteor pass. Some moments later one of them got up
feeling very tired, but the other was dead. The bones
of the latter were so soft that it was easy to bend them ;
his whole body was of the consistency of paste. The
tongue had been torn from the roots, and no one knew
what had become of it.
Now, just as the earth can strike, so can -the human
body become fulminating and act like lightning. After
having been struck, it can effectively acquire the power
to strike in its turn.
For instance, on June 30, 1854, a man named Barri
was killed by lightning near the Jardin des Plantes, in
Paris, and his body lay for some time exposed to a
beating rain. After the storm had passed, two soldiers
from the neighbouring guard-house tried to remove
48 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
the body, and each received a violent blow when they
touched it. They got off with a shock, perhaps because
the body had been drenched with rain, which acted as
a conductor to the electricity, and thus it had had time
to lose a part of the fluid.
What a mysterious world is that of atmospheric
electricity ! It is truly the New World for the scientific
mind a mine, fruitful in unknown and even unsus-
pected marvels, which is perpetually disclosing its riches
for our admiration.
One of our most valued collaborators in our re-
searches on the nature of lightning is photography.
Faithfully and unhesitatingly it registers an indestruc-
tible document of the fugitive lightning, which imprints
itself on the sensitized plate, and the astronomer can
afterwards examine the smallest details of the sudden
apparition comfortably and at his leisure. We have
already a considerable number of plates of the outline
of the lightning in flight. An examination of these
electric pictures is very interesting.
Who knows whether, later on, when phonography
is brought to perfection, it will not also register the
noisy accompaniment to the electric flash ? Then, with
the help of the cinematograph, we could have dramatic
representations of sensational storms. While the
photograph unrolls all the phases of the lightning,
from its emerging from the cloud to its fall to earth,
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 49
before the gaze of the spectators, the phonograph will
repeat the sonorous accents of the terrorizing voice of
Thunder, as all the world knows, is the noise which
accompanies lightning. It is produced when a change
of electricity a neutralization takes place between
two points more or less distant. The causes whic
provoke it are still somewhat of a mystery.
The luminous rocket which flings itself precipitately
from a cloud saturated with electricity, spreads itself
like a trail of flames in the atmosphere where an infinity
of invisible molecules are floating ; these it repels. The
passage of this whirlwind of fire in a centre which is
greatly compressed produces a momentary void into
which the surrounding air at once rushes, and it is the
same all the way along the route followed by lightning.
In all probability the equilibrium of the atmosphere,
which is momentarily disturbed by the intrusion of the
ignited matter, hastily re-establishes itself by a rush of
the air which the lightning has ejected, and which is
swallowed up with a crash in the opening which has
been made. It is, on a large scale, a similar pheno-
menon to that which is produced by opening a case
which has been hermetically sealed. The air rushing
in makes a dull noise.
Pouillet objects to this very natural explanation on
the ground that the flight of a cannon-ball ought to
50 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
produce a similar noise. But this objection errs in its
basis, because, as regards velocity, a cannon-ball is as a
tortoise as compared with the arrow of lightning, and
as regards size, who can compare a few grammes of
powder to the torrents of fire launched into space by
the prodigious force of electricity ?
The lightning discharge produces a violent con-
cussion in the cloud, and very often a shower of rain
immediately follows it. The electric conditions of the
different clouds which make a storm being separately
liable the one to the other, the discharge of one must
lead to that of several others more or less distant. In
all cases the noise is caused by the expansion of the air
where a more or less partial void has been made. It is
the same with fire-arms, creve-vessie, etc.
One of the chief characteristics of thunder is the
rolling, which is often prolonged, and reverberates on
the sides of steep mountains. This voice, with its
lugubrious tone, becomes grave and sometimes sinister
in the revolution of space this voice, celestial and
infernal, seems to momentarily dominate the world,
while the clouds are enveloped with a thousand
diabolical flames. Sometimes it rings in the air with
fierce calls, at others it spreads itself in dull, languorous
Nevertheless, the intenseness of thunder undergoes
a thousand fluctuations, and presents astonishing
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 51
variations. Generally it strikes and frightens, but the
curious thing is that, for the ear, in reality it is less
strong than the crinkling noise of a piece of paper torn
close to it.
Often, too, it may be compared to the discharge of
fire-arms, a pistol or a cannon.
Thus, when the lightning penetrated Volney's
apartments at Naples, the people present, among whom
was Saussure, had the impression of a pistol-shot in the
There is a case given of M. and Mme. Boddington,
who were seated on the back seat of their coach in
order to enjoy the view of the country, and had given
the inside seats to two servants. Suddenly there was a
flash of lightning, which struck M. and Mme. Boddington
and flung the postillion to a great distance. The
servants were untouched, and escaped with a fright.
When they got over their terror, one of them said that
a very brilliant flash of lightning had been immediately
followed by a noise similar to that of a heavily charged
musket. He thought some one had shot the horses.
His fright had stunned him so that he hardly knew
what had happened.
At other times thunder is accompanied by a
whistling noise, but as a rule it is the rolling which
We ask ourselves to what it is due that this rolling
52 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
lasts so long. There are several causes. The first is
due to the length of lightning and the difference in
speed between sound and light. Let us suppose, for
example, a flash of lightning, AE, 11,000 metres long.
The observer stationed at O, underneath extremity
E of the lightning (which is one kilometre high), will
see the lightning in its full length in one indivisible
instant. The sound will form itself also at the same
DIAGRAM EXPLAINING THE DURATION OF THE SOUND OF THUNDER.
instant all along the line of lightning, but the sound-
waves will only reach the ear of the observer at
different times. That which starts at point E, the
nearest, will arrive in 3 seconds, sound travelling about
337 metres a second. That which is formed at the
same moment at point D, 2000 yards from point O,
will take double the time to arrive. That which comes
from point C will not arrive for 12 seconds. The
sound formed at B will not arrive until the time
necessary to cover 8 kilometres that is to say, not for
23 seconds and the sound formed at A will only reach
after 32 seconds. Thus the rolling will have lasted
more than half a minute from start to finish.
And if, which is very often the case, the astronomer
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 53
is not exactly under one of the extremities of the
lightning, but at some other point in its course, he
first hears a clap, then an increased noise, then a
diminution. In fact, in this case, the sound which
leaves point D just overhead, which is 1000 metres off,
arrives alone in 3 seconds, but the sounds formed from
D to E on one side, and from C to D on the other,
arrive at the same time, having joined each other,
COMMENCEMENT, AUGMENTATION, AND DIMINUTION OF THE INTENSITY
taking 9 seconds, which is the necessary time to come
from 1000 to 3000 metres. The sounds beyond C
arrive and depart according to distance, as in the
preceding example, and the thunder has lasted 23
seconds instead of 32 seconds.
I must add that lightning is never straight, but
The length of time the thunder rolls has nothing
to do with the distance of the cloud where the phe-
nomenon begins. It is proportionate to the length of
the lightning with which it is associated. The rolling
is often still more prolonged by a succession of small
discharges, which follow each other very rapidly between
54 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
the stormy clouds; by the zigzags and ramifications
of the lightning caused by the hygrometrical diversity
of the different beds of air ; by the echoes repeated
by the mountains, the earth, the water, and the clouds
themselves to all which must be added also the
interferences caused by the encounter of the different
systems of sound-waves.
Its duration is extremely variable, however; it
rarely exceeds 30 seconds, though the noise may some-
times seem to last much longer, so that an observation
of this kind may have any value one must take into
consideration the echo, and isolate a single clap from
the series of discharges which take place in the bosom
of the storm. The longest verified duration of a single
discharge is 45 seconds. That is tremendous if we
think of the instantaneousness of the lightning, and
reflect that the flash and the sound are produced in
reality at the same moment, that they are dependent
the one on the other, and that in their various mani-
festations there is only the difference of motion.
Sound moves like a tortoise behind the swift light-
ning, whose vibrations spread in the air with incon-
Hence these 45 seconds correspond to a flash of
lightning more than 15 kilometres in length, but we
know that there are even longer ones.
I have already said that we can calculate the
THE FLASH AND THE SOUND 55
distance of the celestial cannon from which the
fulminating discharge comes by counting the number
of seconds which separate the apparition of the light-
ning from the first growls of the thunder. Thus the
longest interval that has been proved between the
appearance of the lightning and the noise it produces
is 24 kilometres. This, however, is a maximum.
Numerous observations have proved that thunder is
never heard beyond 20 or perhaps 25 kilometres.
Lightning pierces the cloudy veil, but the voice of
thunder does not carry so far. In this the great
Jupiter shows himself inferior to the ingenuity of
human pigmies, whose destructive and barbarous art
has been able to invent infernal machines the noise of
which can be heard much further.
Cannon can easily be heard at a distance of 40
kilometres. Sometimes, in sieges and big battles the
cannonades can be heard muttering lugubriously more
than 100 kilometres away.
During the siege of Paris, Krupp's cannon that
most expeditious of all vehicles of civilization in the
eyes of the statesmen of this planet ! could be heard
as far as Dieppe, 140 kilometres away, during the
nights when they were bombarding. The cannonade
of March 30, 1814, which crowned the First Empire,
as it crowned the Second, was heard between Lisieux
and Caen, a distance of 175 kilometres. Arago even
56 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
alleges that the cannon at Waterloo could be heard as
far as Creil, which is 200 kilometres away. Thus man's
thunder can be heard at a greater distance than that
of nature. It is true that it is incomparably more
vicious, and that it has a great many more victims.
In its natural state, if we might explain it thus
left to itself it comes directly to us from the high
regions of the atmosphere, and is the most terrible of
aerial messengers a subtle messenger, malicious and
violent, it is the terror of the human race. But ruled
by the genius of man, it becomes a powerful agent
towards modern civilization, and we cannot sufficiently
admire its many advantages.
If we could tame lightning and guide it safely,
its services would probably become innumerable.
Lightning as man's right hand ! Why not ? Was
it not the auxiliary of the gods in the dark ages?
To-day, is it not regarded by astronomers as one of the
most important forces of nature ? Why should it not
be the collaborator of man's intelligence to-morrow ?
HERE we penetrate into what is, perhaps, the most
mysterious, and certainly the least understood domain
of thunder and lightning.
Among all the electrical phenomena to be observed
in the atmosphere, there is nothing stranger than those
fireballs of which we have already spoken, and which
in form and size recall the electric lights in our Paris
boulevards. Curious the contrast between electricity
tamed and civilized and electricity running wild !
Between the arc lights fulfilling their peaceful and
useful function as substitutes for the sun, and these
dread engines of destruction sowing death and havoc !
It is not long since the existence of these fireballs
has been acknowledged by scientists as an actual fact.
Until quite recent times they were regarded as the
figment of excited imaginations, and wise men smiled at
the wild stories of their ravages. Their reality has
now been established, however, beyond the possibility
58 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
In shape they are not always quite spherical, though
this is their normal appearance; and although their
contours are usually clearly defined, they are sometimes
encircled by a kind of luminous vapour, such as we
often see encircling the moon. Sometimes they are
furnished with a red flame like a fuse that has been lit.
Sometimes their course is simply that of a falling star.
Sometimes they leave behind them a luminous trail
which remains visible long after they themselves have
disappeared. They have been described as looking like
a crouching kitten, an iron bar, a large orange so
harmless apparently, that you were tempted to put out
your hand to catch it. There is record of one being
seen as large as a millstone.
One remarkable thing about them is the slowness
with which they move, and which sometimes enables
their course to be watched for several minutes. In our
first chapter we gave several instances of the occurrence
of fireballs. Let us look at some more. Here is one
taken from Arago's learned treatise upon thunder.
The record is from the pen of Batti, a marine painter
in the service of the Empress of Austria and resident
"In the month of June, 1841, I was staying at the
Hdtel de 1'Agnello in a room on the second floor, over-
looking the Corso dei Servi. It was about six in the
afternoon. The rain was coming down in torrents, and
the darkest rooms were lit up by the lightning flashes
better than our rooms generally are by gas. Thunder
broke out every now and again with appalling violence.
The windows of the houses were closed, and the streets
were deserted, for, as I have said, there was a steady
downpour, and the main road was turned into a torrent.
I was sitting quietly smoking, and looking out at the
rain, which an occasional ray of sunlight set flashing
like threads of gold, when I suddenly heard voices
in the street calling out * Guarda, guarda ! ' * Look,
look ! ' and at the same moment a clatter of hob-nailed
boots. After half an hour of absolute silence, this
noise attracted my attention. I ran to the window,
and looking to the right, in the direction of the
clamour, I saw a fireball making its way down the
middle of the road on a level with my window, in a
noticeably oblique direction, not horizontally. Eight or
ten persons, continuing to call out ' Guarda, guarda ! '
kept pace with it, walking down the street, stepping
out quickly. The meteor passed my window, and I
had to turn to the left to see what would be the end
of its caprice. After a moment, fearing to lose sight of
it behind some houses which jutted out beyond my
hotel, I went quickly downstairs and into the street,
and was in time to see it again and to join those who
were following its course. It was still going slowly,
but it was now higher up, and was still ascending so
60 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
much so that after a few minutes it hit the cross upon
the clock tower of the Chiesa dei Servi and disappeared.
Its disappearance was accompanied by a dull report like
that of a big cannon twenty miles away when the wind
carries the sound.
" To give an idea of the size and colour of this globe
of fire, I can only compare it to the appearance of the
moon as one may see it sometimes rising above the
Alps on a clear night in winter, and as I myself have
seen it at Innsbruck that is to say, of a reddish yellow,
with patches on it almost of red. The difference was
that you could not see the contours of the meteor
distinctly as you could the moon, and that it seemed
to be enveloped in a luminous atmosphere of indefinite
This fireball was an innocuous one. We may take
next, by way of contrast, the case of one which wreaked
terrible damage and loss of life.
On July 27, 1789, at about three o'clock in the
afternoon, a fireball of about the size of a cannon-ball,
fell in a great hall at Feltri (Marche Trevisane) in
which six hundred people were seated, wounded seventy
and killed ten, putting out all the lights.
On July 11, 1809, about eleven o'clock in the
morning, a fireball penetrated into the church of
Chateauneuf-les-Moustiers (Basses- Alpes) just as the
bell was ringing and a large congregation had taken
their seats. Nine persons were killed on the spot and
eighty-two others were wounded. All the dogs that
had got into the church were killed. A woman who
was in a hut on a neighbouring hill saw three fireballs
descend that day, and made sure they would reduce the
village to ashes.
Miisschenbroek recounts the following incident
which took place at Solingen in 1711. M. Pyl, the
Pastor at Duytsbourg, was preaching one Sunday, when
in the middle of a storm a fireball fell into the church
through the clock tower and exploded. The sanctuary
was set on fire and became thick with smoke. Three
persons were killed and more than a hundred were
From the Bulletin of the Societe Astronomique de
France the following narrative contributed to it by
Mile, de Soubbotine, a member of this society, has been
"A terrible storm broke out at Ouralsk on May
22, 1901. It was & fete day and the streets were
thronged with people. Towards five in the afternoon
some young men and girls, twenty-one in all, had
taken refuge in the vestibule of a house, and a girl of
seventeen, Mile. K., had sat down on the threshold,
her back turned towards the street. Suddenly there
was a violent clap of thunder, and in front of the door
there appeared a dazzlingly brilliant ball of fire,
62 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
gradually descending towards where they were all
grouped. After touching Mile. K.'s head, who bowed
down at once, the fireball fell on the ground in the
middle of the party, made a circuit of it, then forcing
its way into the room of the master of the house, whose
boots it touched and singed, it wreaked havoc with the
apartment, broke through the wall into a stove in the
adjoining room, smashed the stove-pipe, and carried it
off with such violence that it was dashed against the
opposite wall, and went out through the broken
" After the first feeling of fright, this is what
transpired. The door near which Mile. K. was seated
had been thrown back into the court, and in the
ceiling there were two holes of about 18 centimetres
"The young girl, still seated with her head bowed
down, looked as though she were asleep. Some of the
people were walking in the courtyard, having seen and
heard nothing, and the others were all lying in the
vestibule in a dead faint. Mile. K. was dead. The
fireball had struck her on the nape of her neck and had
proceeded down her back and left hip, leaving a black
mark all along. There was a sore on one hand, with
some blood on it, and one of her shoes was torn com-
pletely off, and there was a small hole in one of the
" All the victims became deaf."
On September 10, 1845, at about two in the
afternoon, in the course of a violent storm, a fireball
came down the chimney into a room in a house in the
village of Salagnac (Creuse). A child and three women
who were in the room suffered no harm from it. Then
it rolled into the middle of the kitchen, and passed
near the feet of a young peasant who was standing
in it. After which it went into an adjoining room,
and disappeared without leaving any trace. The
women tried to persuade the man to go in and see
whether he could not stamp it out, but he had once
allowed himself to be electrified in Paris, and thought
it prudent to refrain. In a little stable hard by, it
was found afterwards that the fireball had killed a
pig. It had gone through the straw without setting
fire to it.
On July 12, 1872, a new form of fireball made its
appearance in the Commune of Hecourt (Oise). It was
of the size of an egg, and it was seen burning upon
a bed. Efforts were made in vain to extinguish it,
and presently the entire house, together with the
neighbouring dwellings and barns, became a prey to
On October 9, 1885, at 8.25 p.m., during a violent
storm, a globe of fire of the size of a small apple was
seen coming into a ground-floor room in a house at
64 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Constantinople through an open window, the family being
at table in this room at the time. It first played
round a gas-jet, then, moving towards the table, it
passed between two guests, went round a lamp hanging
over the centre of the table, and then precipitated
itself into the street, where it exploded with an
appalling crash, but without having caused any damage
or hurt anybody. Not far from the scene of this
phenomenon there are a number of buildings provided
with lightning conductors. The fireball left no trace
of smell behind it.
Here is another curious narrative of a fireball.
A party of five women took refuge during a storm
in the entrance to a house in order to escape from the
rain and the lightning.
They had scarcely gained the doorway when there
was a tremendous thunderclap which sent them flying
backwards and two girls who had joined them
knocked senseless by lightning in the form of a fire-
ball. One of the girls remained unconscious for a long
time; all the others were more or less seriously injured,
but all recovered. The strangest circumstance in
connection with this affair, however, still remains to be
On the same side of the street as the passage, in
a neighbouring house, nine or ten yards away, in a
ground-floor room of which the door was shut, a young
SINGULAR CASE OF THUEE FIREBALLS OBSERVED IN PARIS
ON JUNE 10, 1905, BY M. H. RUDAUX.
They were seen to descend in this way upon the
lightning conductor above the Palais Koyal electric-
power station. This engraving, after a sketch made at
the time by M. Eudaux, appeared in La Science lllustr&e,
for August, 1903.
woman was working at a sewing-machine. At the
moment of the thunderclap, she experienced a violent
shock throughout her whole body, and a fierce burning
sensation in the hollow of her back. It was found
afterwards that between the shoulder-blades and also
on her leg, she had been badly scorched, but the
wounds quickly healed. Now, in the room of this
victim, no trace was to be found of the passing of the
fireball, neither on the ceiling, nor on the floor, nor on
the walls. There was absolutely nothing to show how
the electric fluid could have made its way in from
the spot in which the fireball had exploded in the
neighbouring house, separated from it by two thick
Mysterious, is it not? The fireball seems to
dwindle out of sight. In some cases, it seems to
reduce itself into vapour in order to pass from one
place to another.
With animals these fireballs seem deadlier and more
merciless than with human beings.
Thus, on February 16, 1866, a thunderstorm
descended upon a farm in the Commune of Chapelle-
Largeau (Deux-Sevres), and the circumstances attending
its explosion are too remarkable to be overlooked.
After a tremendous thunderclap, a young man who
was standing near the farm saw an immense fireball
touch the ground at his feet, but it did him no damage,
66 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
but passed, still harmlessly, through a room in the
farmhouse in which there were nine persons. The only
effect it produced was the flaring up of some matches
upon the chimney-piece.
It proceeded towards the stables, which were divided
into two compartments. In one there were two cows
and two oxen : the first cow, to the right of the entrance,
was killed, the second was uninjured ; the first ox was
killed, the second was uninjured.
The same effect was found to have been produced
in the other compartment, in which there were four
cows ; the first and the third were killed, the second
and fourth were spared : the odd numbers taken and
the even numbers left.
Similar freaks have been recorded in connection
with piles of plates struck by lightning holes being
found in alternate plates. How are these things to be
The following story is very extraordinary, though it
does not help to clear up the mystery of lightning's
strange ways :
On August 24, 1895, about ten in the morning, in
the midst of a storm of wind and rain, several persons
saw descending to the ground a whitish-coloured globe
of about an inch and a half in diameter, which, on
touching the ground, split into two smaller globes.
These rose at once to the height of the chimneys on the
houses close by and disappeared. One went down a
chimney, crossed a room in which were a man and a
child, without harming them, and went through the
floor, perforating a brick with a clean round hole of
about the size of a franc. Under this room there was
a sheep-fold. The shepherd's son, seated at the door-
way, suddenly saw a bright light shining over the flock
of sheep, while the lambs were jumping about in alarm.
When he went up to them, he was startled to discover
that five sheep had been killed. They bore no trace of
burning, or of wound of any kind, but about their lips
was a sort of foam, slightly pink in colour.
In the adjoining house, the second fireball had
also gone down a chimney, and had exploded in the
kitchen, causing great damage.
In 1890, a young farmer was working on a plot of
ground, two or three miles from Montfort-rAmaury.
A storm breaking out, he stood up against his horses
to take refuge from the rain ; moving away a few yards
in order to get his whip, there was seen, when he re-
turned, a ball of fire almost touching the ear of one of
his horses. A moment later it exploded with a deafen-
ing noise. The two horses fell one of them unable to
get up again. The farmer himself was dashed to pieces.
On other occasions the meteor is hardly more
devastating than the ordinary bomb.
On April 21, at Lanxade, near Bergerac, a storm
68 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
had been raging already for some hours, when suddenly
simultaneously with a small thunderclap a ball of
fire, of the size of the opening of a sack of corn, fell
slowly on one of the banks of the Dordogne, spoiling
some fruit trees, and then crossing the river, it raised a
waterspout several yards high as it went.
It disappeared finally on the other side of a field
On November 12, 1887, a very curious instance of a
fireball was noticed on the Atlantic.
It was at midnight, near Cape Race. An enormous
fireball was seen to rise slowly out of the sea to the
height of sixteen or seventeen metres. It travelled
against the wind, and came quite near the vessel from
which it was being watched. Then it turned towards
the south-east and disappeared. The apparition lasted
about five minutes.
In July, 1902, in the course of a violent storm, and
immediately after a loud peal of thunder, a fireball of
about the size of a toy balloon was seen to make its
appearance suddenly in the Rue Veron at Montmartre.
After moving along, just above the ground, in front of
a wine-merchant's shop, it exploded like a bomb, most
fortunately without hurting any one, or doing any
The little village of Candes, situated by the con-
fluence of the Vienne and the Loire, was the scene of
the appearance of a fireball in June, 1897. Three
persons were sitting in the verandah of a house during
a storm, when they suddenly saw a fireball travelling-
past them through the air for a distance of thirty yards
or so. Then it exploded with a loud noise, striking
sparks from the ironworks of the verandah. At the
same moment, the servants saw another fireball cross a
garden at the other side of the house, and drop into
a small pond. A gardener was knocked over, but not
On March 6, 1894, M. Dandois, professor of surgery
at the University of Louvain, went to the neighbouring
town of Linden, by railway, to see a patient. On his
return, on foot, the sky suddenly so darkened over,
that he made for the nearest dwelling-place, avoid-
ing, as he did so, the telegraph poles along the
road. Suddenly a ball of fire came against him
and threw him over a ditch into a field, where he lay
A quarter of an hour later, having regained his
senses and finding himself undamaged save for a
numbness in one arm and one leg, the doctor set out
again, congratulating himself on the fact that his
umbrella had acted as a sort of portable lightning
conductor, for the steels were all twisted, and showed
signs of having borne the brunt of the fray. Had the
handle been of steel also, the electric current would
70 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
have run down it into his hand, doubtless, and killed
On another occasion a fireball fell upon the door of
a house, pushed it violently open, and made its way
into the kitchen.
At the sight of this strange visitor, the cook
bolted from the room. A sempstress, who was at
work near the window, received a small burn on her
forehead, of about the size of half a franc, with a
slight weal a couple of inches long like the tail of
After bursting, the fireball made its way up the
chimney, from which it removed a mass of soot, smelling
somewhat of sulphur.
Here is an instance more curious still
A violent storm was raging near Marseilles, when
seven persons, seated together in the ground-floor
drawing-room of a country house, saw a fireball as big
as a plate appear in their midst.
It directed its course towards a young girl of
eighteen, who, frightened out of her life, had fallen on
her knees. Touching her shoes, it rebounded to the
ceiling, then came down to her feet again, and so on
two or three times, with mysterious regularity, the girl
experiencing, it seems, no other sensation than that of
a slight cramp in her .legs. Eventually the fireball
made its exit from the room through a keyhole !
The girl could not get up at once after it had gone.
For a fortnight or so she could not walk without
assistance, and it was two years before she got over a
liability to sudden weakness in her legs, causing her
suddenly to fall.
It is strange to reflect that these diminutive fire-
balls, produced by the actual atmosphere we breathe,
are less understood by us than that enormous globe
which we call the sun, and to which is due the flowering
of the entire life of our planet. If we are still in doubt
as to the nature of the sun's spots, at least we have
been able to analyse its own elements. And we know
its dimensions, its weight, its distance from us, its rate
of rotation, etc., etc.
Yet these electric spheres that make their escape
from the clouds in times of storm, baffle our investiga-
According to records which seem authentic, fire-
balls have been seen actually to come into existence
upon the surface of a ceiling, at the mouth of a well,
and upon the flagstones of a church.
In 1713, at the chateau of Fosdinaro, in the neigh-
bourhood of Massa Carrara, in the course of a storm
and heavy downpour of rain, there was seen to appeal-
suddenly upon the ground a very vivid flame, white and
blue in colour. It seemed to flare fiercely, but did not
move apparently from the one spot, and after growing
72 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
quickly in volume it suddenly disappeared. Simultane-
ously with its going, one of the observers felt a curious
sort of tickling behind his shoulder, moving upwards ;
several bits of plaster from the ceiling under which he
stood fell upon his head, and there was a sudden crash
quite unlike an ordinary thunderclap.
In 1750, on the 2nd of July, at about three in the
afternoon, the Abbe Richard happened to be in the
church of St. Michel at Dijon during a storm.
" Suddenly,"" he tells us, " I saw between two pillars of
the nave a bright red flame floating in the air about
three feet above the floor. Presently it rose to a height
of twelve or fifteen feet, increasing in volume. Then,
after having moved some yards to one side, while still
rising diagonally to the height almost of the wood-
work of the organ, it disappeared at last with an
explosion like the report of a cannon."
On July 21, 1745, a violent storm broke out in
Boulogne, and the tower of a convent was struck by a
fireball. It was of great size, and was seen to emerge
from one of the sewers of the town and to move along
the surface of the road until it hit against this tower,
of which a part subsided. No one was hurt. A nun
affirmed that some years before she had seen just such
another fireball emerge from the same spot and pre-
cipitate itself with a crash against the summit of the
tower without doing any damage.
In the middle of a violent storm, Dr. Gardons saw
several fireballs flying in different directions, not far
from the ground, making a crackling sort of noise.
One of them was seen by witnesses to come out of an
excavation full of stagnant water. They killed one
man, several animals, and did much damage to the
trees and houses in the vicinity.
In February, 1767, at Fresbourg, a blue, conical
flame escaped suddenly with a detonating noise from a
brasier, breaking it to pieces, and scattering the glowing
cinders all around. It then went twisting about the
room, burnt the face and hands of a child, escaped
partly through the window, partly through the door,
broke into a thousand pieces a second brasier in
another room, and disappeared finally up a chimney,
carrying up with it and discharging from the chimney-
top into the street several hams which had been hung
under the chimney-piece. For several days afterwards
the atmosphere of the house retained a smell of
In some cases, fireballs have been seen to come
down from the sky apparently, and then, after almost
reaching but not actually touching the ground, to
ascend again. Thus on a hot day in summer 1837,
M. Hapoule, a landed proprietor in the department of
the Moselle, standing in front of the entrance to his
stables under the shelter of a porch during a storm,
74 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
saw a fireball about the size of an orange moving in
the direction of a dung-heap not far from him. But
instead of going right into it, it stopped about a yard
off, and changing its route, it went off at an angle,
keeping the same level for some distance, when it
suddenly seemed to change its mind again, and rose
perpendicularly till it disappeared in the clouds.
These sudden changes, as we have seen, are strangely
characteristic of the habits of fireballs.
The Garde Champetre of the village of Lalande de
Libourne (Gironde) was traversing the country one
evening about half-past ten, engaged in organizing
a garde de surveillance, when he suddenly found
himself surrounded by a bright and penetrating light.
Astonished, he looked behind him, and saw a fireball,
just broken loose from a cloud, descending quickly to
The light vanished presently, but he made his way
towards where the fireball seemed to be falling. When
he had gone about two hundred yards, he saw another
brilliant light breaking out from the top of a tree and
spreading itself into a sheaf of rays, every point of
which seemed to emit electric sparks.
At the end of a quarter of an hour the light became
weaker, and then disappeared. The tree was afterwards
cut down, and it was found that the lightning had gone
down the centre to a distance of three yards, and had
then passed down outside to the soil, leaving trace of a
semi-circular route; and finally, after rising again on
the opposite side of the tree to a height of four yards,
tearing off two narrow strips of bark, had disappeared.
At the foot of the tree a small hole, about an inch and
a quarter in diameter, retained a certain degree of
warmth for an hour and a half afterwards.
Fireballs often keep within the frontiers of cloud-
land. They may be seen passing sometimes from one
cloud to another in the high regions of the atmosphere.
On September 22, 1813, at seven in the evening,
M. Louis Ordinaire saw a fireball leave a cloud at
the zenith the sky being very much lowering at the
time and go towards another. It was of a reddish-
yellow and extremely brilliant, lighting up the ground
with a bright radiance.
He was able to follow its movements for at least a
minute, and then saw it disappear into the second
cloud. There was an explosion followed by a dull
sound like the firing off of a cannon in the distance.
After a violent storm which broke out near Wake-
field on March 1, 1774, there remained only two clouds
in the sky, just above the horizon. Balls of fire were
observed gliding from the higher of the two into the
lower, like falling stars.
In high mountainous districts in the Alps, for
instance you may often look down from above upon
76 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
a storm. It is fascinating thus to watch the grandiose
spectacle of the elements at war. Here from the pen
of Pere Lozeran du Fesch is a striking picture of such
" It was on the 2nd of September, 1716, about three
o'clock in the afternoon. A traveller was making his
way down towards Vic from the summit of Cantal,
accompanied by a guide.
"The weather was calm and very warm, but down
below, about the middle of the mountain, a vast sea of
mist stretched out in wavelike clouds.
" These clouds were furrowed continually by lightning
flashes, some going quite straight, some zigzag, some
taking the shape of fireballs. When the two men
came near this region of clouds, the mist grew so
thick they could hardly see the bridles of their horses.
" The air became gradually more cold and the
darkness more dense as they proceeded downwards.
Now they were in the midst of the fireballs flying in
every direction all round them, revolving as they went,
reddish in colour, like saffron lit up.
" They were of all sizes some quite small on their
first appearance, seeming to grow immensely in volume
in a few moments. Drops of rain fell when they
passed. Up to this point the sight had been curious
but not terrifying, but suddenly now, one of these
fireballs, about two feet in diameter, burst open near
the traveller and emitted streams of a bright and
beautiful light in every direction, and there was a dull
report followed by a tremendous crash. The two men
were much shaken and the air all round them seemed
polluted. After a minute or two, however, all trace of
the explosion had been dissipated, and they proceeded
on their way."
On January 6, 1850, near Merlan, about six
in the afternoon, a fireball burst above the heads
of two men, enveloping them in a bluish light, with-
out hurting them or even damaging their clothes, but
giving them a momentary thrill as from an electric
battery. It left no traces of any kind, not even a
Mr. G. M. Ryan records an instance which he
witnessed at Karachi in Scinde. While in his drawing-
room one day with two friends who were taking refuge
from a storm, he rose from his chair and went to the
door to open it, the windows as well as the door being
shut at the time. Returning, he saw in the air and
between his friends, a ball of fire of about the size of a
full moon. At the same time there was a terrible
clap of thunder. Two of the spectators were slightly
wounded ; one felt a sharp pain on the left side of the
face, the other, a sensation in one arm with a feeling as
if his hair were burning. There was a strong smell of
sulphur. In the next room there were two rifles in a
78 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
case; one was intact but the other was broken, and
there was a hole in the wall at the point where the
muzzle leant against it, and there were two holes in the
same wall a story higher.
On Sunday, August 19, 1900, several people were
assembled in a room in the chateau of the Baron de
France at Maintenay (Pas-de-Calais), when there was a
violent storm raging over the country.
Suddenly there appeared in the midst of the eleven
people who were there, a globe of blue fire about the
size of an infant's head, which quietly crossed the
room, touching four people on its way. None of
them were injured. An awful explosion was heard
at the moment when the electric ball disappeared
through an open door in front of the great stair-
On August 3, 1809, a fireball struck the house of
a Mr. David Sutton, not far from Newcastle-on-Tyne.
Eight people were having tea in the drawing-room
when a violent clap of thunder knocked down the
Immediately after they saw on the ground, at the
door opposite the fireplace, the brilliant visitor which
announced itself in the sonorous voice of Jupiter the
thunderer. It remained discreetly at the entrance of
the room, no doubt waiting for the sign to advance.
No one making a move, it came into the middle of the
room, and there burst with a crash, throwing out fiery
grains like aeroliths.
The spectacle must have been magnificent but, we
must acknowledge, rather disquieting.
On September 27, 1772, at Besanfon, a voluminous
fireball crossed over a corn-shop and the ward of a
hospital full of nurses and children. This time again
the lightning was merciful it spared nurses and
children, and went and drowned itself in the Doubs.
Nearly thirty years before, in July, 1744, it showed
the same regard for an honest German peasant woman.
She was occupied in the kitchen superintending the
family meal, when, after a terrible clap of thunder, she
saw a fireball the size of a fist come down the
chimney, pass between her feet without hurting her,
and continue on its course without burning or even
upsetting the spinning-wheel and other objects on the
Much frightened, the young woman tried to escape ;
she threw herself towards the door and opened it, when
the fireball at once followed her, played about her
feet, went into the next room, which opened out-of-
doors, crossed it, and through the door into the
It went round the yard, entered a barn by an open
door, climbed the wall opposite, and reaching the edge
of the roof, burst with such a terrific noise that the
80 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
peasant woman fainted. The barn at once took fire
and was reduced to cinders.
Towards the middle of the last century, March 3,
1835, the steeple of Crailsheim was set on fire by light-
ning. The guardian's daughter, aged twenty years, was
at this moment in her room and had her back turned
to the window, when her young brother saw a fireball
enter by the window-sill and descend on to his sister's
back, giving her a sudden shock all over her body. The
young girl then saw at her feet a quantity of small
flames, which went towards the kitchen, the door of
which had been opened, and set fire to a pile of mossy
wood. There was no further damage than this attempt
at incendiarism, which was easily extinguished.
Occasionally a fireball seems to take a malignant
pleasure in hurling itself like a fury against lightning
conductors ; but instead of quietly impaling itself like
the linear lightning, and breathing its last sigh in a
prolonged roar, it struggles, and comes forth victorious
from this curious contest.
There are many cases of fireballs playing about the
lightning conductors without being caught.
In 1777, a fireball shot from the clouds on to the
point of the lightning conductor on the Observatory of
Padua. The conductor, which consisted of an iron
chain, was broken at its junction with the stem.
However, it sent on the discharge.
Some years later, in 1792, a huge ball of lightning
struck one of the two conductors on the house of
M. Haller at Villiers la Garenne. This conductor was
much injured by the audacious assailant, and so was the
framework of the house ; the keen fluid had damaged
the metallic gutters.
At this point I must add that lightning conductors
are of recent creation. Nor would it be surprising
if there were defective ones which could not assure an
However, much later, on December 20, 1845, the
same phenomenon was observed at the chateau of
Bortyvon, near Vire. There, again, the fireball,
ignoring the danger to which it was exposing itself,
flung itself on a lightning conductor placed in the
centre of the chateau. It was spared, but the chateau
suffered greatly. The electric ball descended from both
sides of the metallic stem, causing a great deal of
damage along its path. On touching the ground it
expanded, and many persons affirm that they saw
what was like a huge cask of fire rolling along the
In truth, ball lightning seems in a certain measure
to escape the influence of lightning conductors.
On September 4, 1903, towards ten o'clock in
the evening, M. Laurence Rotch, director of the
Observatory of Blue Hill (U.S.), happening to be in
82 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Paris, made the following curious observation from the
Rond-point of the Champs Elyse'es.
Looking in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, he
saw the summit of the edifice struck by white lightning
coming from the zenith. At the same moment a fire-
ball, less dazzling than the lightning, slowly descended
from the summit to the second platform. It appeared
to be about one yard in diameter, and to be situated
in the middle of the tower, taking less than two
seconds to cover a distance of about 100 yards. Then
it disappeared. The next day the observer ascertained,
on visiting the tower, that it had actually been struck
by lightning twice on the previous day.
It is to be noted that the meteor did not follow
the conductor; but, after all, is not the whole tower
itself the most powerful conductor imaginable ? Would
not the enormous masses of iron used in its con-
struction neutralize the attraction of the thin metallic
rods, effectual for the protection of ordinary buildings,
but incapable, one would think, of competing with the
attractive force of this immense metallic framework ?
Here are some cases where globular lightning has
struck bells or telegraph wires, which it has followed
Several times it has been seen poised like a bird
on a telegraph wire near a railway-station, and has
then quietly disappeared.
THE KIFFKL TOWKK AS A COLOSSAL LIGHTNING CONDUCTOR.
Photograph taken June 3, 1902, at 9.20 p.m., by M. G. Loppe. Published in the Bulletin
ile la Societe Astronomique <le France (May, 1905). [_f' a ff e 82.
We see that it is not absolutely inimical to points,
nor to metals, but it prefers its independence, and
he must get up early who would catch it in a snare.
It is an anarchist it acknowledges no rule.
But we must confess that if spheroidal lightning
seems particularly capricious, it is because we are still
ignorant of the laws which guide it. Our ignorance
alone is the cause of the mystery.
We try to discover the enigma in the silence of
the laboratories, where physicians question science
without ceasing ; we try to reproduce fireballs arti-
ficially, but the problem is complicated, and its
solution presents enormous difficulties.
Hypotheses are not wanting. Some years ago, M.
Stephane Leduc recorded an interesting experiment,
producing a moving globular spark.
When two very fine and highly polished metallic
points, each in affinity with one of the poles of an
electro-static machine, rest perpendicularly on the
sensitive face of a gelatine bromide of silver photo-
graphic plate, which is placed on a metallic leaf, the
two points being 5 to 10 centimetres the one from
the other, an effluvium is produced round the positive
point, while at the negative point a luminous globule
When this globule has reached a sufficient size,
you can see it detach itself from the point, which
84 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
ceases to be luminous, begin to move forward slowly
on the plate, make a few curves, and then set off for
the positive point ; when it reaches this, the effluvium
is extinguished, all luminous phenomenon ceases, and
the machine acts as if its two poles were united by
The speed with which the luminous globe moves
is very slight. It takes from one to four minutes to
cover a distance of 5 to 6 centimetres. Sometimes,
before reaching the positive point, the globe bursts
into two or more luminous globules, which individually
continue their journey towards the positive point.
On developing the plate, you will find traced on it
the route followed by the globule, the point of ex-
plosion, the routes resulting from the division, the
effluvium round the positive point. Also, if you stop
the experiment before the arrival of the globule at
the positive point, the photograph will only give the
route to that point.
The globule makes its course the conductor. If
during its journey you were to throw powder on the
plate sulphur, for example the course it followed will
be marked by a line of little aigrettes, looking like a
Of all the known electric phenomena, this is the
most analogous with globular lightning.
But the really complicated part of the question
PHOTOGRAPH OF THE POSITIVE POLE OP AX ELECTRIC SPARK.
PHOTOGRAPH OF THE NEGATIVE POLE OP AN ELECTRIC SPARK.
is when ball lightning loses part of its fluidity and
becomes a semi-solid body, as in the following
On April 24, 1887, a storm burst over Mortree
(Orne), and the lightning literally chopped the tele-
graph wire on the route to Argentan for a distance
of 150 yards. The pieces were so calcinated that
they might have been under the fire of a forge ;
some of the longer ones 'were bent and their sections
welded together. The lightning entered by the door
of a stable in the form of a fireball, and came near
a person who was preparing to milk a cow ; then it
passed between the legs of the animal, and disappeared
without causing any damage. The terrified cow raised
itself on its hind legs with frantic bellowing, and its
master ran away, frightened out of his wits, but
there was no harm done.
The inexplicable phenomenon was that at the
precise moment when the lightning crossed the stable,
a great quantity of incandescent stones fell before a
neighbouring house. " Some of these fragments, of
the size of nuts," wrote the Minister of Post and
Telegraphs at the Academy, "are of a not very
thick material, of a greyish- white, and easily broken
by the fingers, giving forth a characteristic odour of
sulphur. The others, which are smaller, are exactly
86 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
"It would perhaps be useful to say here, that
during this storm the thunderclaps were not pre-
ceded by the ordinary muttering, they burst quickly
like the discharge of musketry, and succeeded one
another at short intervals. Hail fell in abundance,
and the temperature was very low."
It is only by a semblance of disbelief that one can
get the peasants to tell us the stories of what they
pretend to have seen of the fall of aeroliths during
storms. They have christened the uranoliths " thunder-
stones. 1 '
These substances have evidently no relation to
uranoliths, but they prove none the less that
ponderable matter may accompany the fall of light-
Here are two more examples
In the month of August, 1885, a storm burst over
Sotteville (Seine-Inferieure) ; lightning furrowed the
sky, the thunder muttered, and the rain fell in torrents.
Suddenly, in the Rue Pierre Corneille, several small
balls, about the size of a common pea, were seen to
fall ; these burned on touching the ground, sending
out a little violet flame. People counted more than
twenty, and one of the spectators, on putting her foot
on one of them, produced a fresh flame. They left
no trace on the ground.
On August 25, 1880, in Paris, during a rather
violent storm, in broad daylight, M. A. Trecul, of
the Institute, saw a very brilliant voluminous body,
yellowish-white, and rather long in shape, being
apparently 35 to 40 centimetres in length, by about
25 in width, with slightly conical ends.
This body was only visible for a few seconds ; it
seemed to disappear and re-enter a cloud, but in
departing and this is the chief point it dropped
a little substance, which fell vertically like a heavy
body under the sole influence of gravity. It left a
trail of light behind it, at the edges of which could
be seen sparks, or rather red globules, because their
light did not flash. Near the falling substance the
luminous trail was almost vertical, while in the further
part it was sinuous. The small substance divided in
falling, and the light went out soon after, when it was
on the point of reaching the tops of the houses.
When it was disappearing, and at the moment of the
division, no noise was heard, although the cloud was
not far away.
This fact incontestably proves the presence of
ponderable matter in clouds, which is not violently
projected by an explosion in the bolis, nor accompanied
by a noisy electric discharge.
We are still far from understanding the interesting
problem of the formation and nature of ball lightning.
Instead of denying it, men of science ought to study
88 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
it, because it is certainly one of the most remarkable
of the curiosities of atmospheric electricity.
We must begin by finding out the exact facts, which
are extraordinary enough to captivate our attention.
The theories will follow.
THE EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND
THE destructive work of lightning in every form is
immense. A formidable and invisible world skirts the
earth an enchanted world, more wonderful than any
Eastern legend an unknown ocean, whose immaterial
presence is constantly brought before us by the most
fearful electric conflagrations.
Even to-day the brilliancy of lightning hides itself
from us in the darkness of impenetrable mystery. But
we feel that there is an immeasurable power, an un-
imaginable force which rules us.
We are, in fact, but puny beings in comparison
with this magic force, and the ancients were wise when
they made the King of the Gods responsible for the
actions of lightning. He alone in His splendour and
sovereignty could exercise such an empire over our
modest planet above all, over man's imagination.
Science slowly follows the centuries in their ascend-
ing march towards progress. At present our knowledge
of ball lightning is limited, and we have only the
90 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
principal facts of nature to contribute to the elucida-
tion of the problem.
In increasing our observations, and in comparing
those which are analogous, we may hope, if not to
arrive at an immediate conclusion, at least to help in
the work of discovering what laws govern this subtle
and imponderable fluid.
Here it will strike a man dead without leaving a
trace ; there it will only attack the clothes and in-
sinuate itself as far as the skin without even grazing it.
It will burn the lining of a garment, and leave the
material of which it is made intact. Sometimes it
profits by the bewilderment caused by its dazzling light
to entirely undress a person, and leave him naked and
inanimate, but with no external wound, not even a
We find as many peculiarities as facts.
Some of the actions of lightning remind one of the
fantastic stories of Hoffmann and Edgar Poe, but
nature is more wonderful than the imagination of man,
and lightning remains supreme in its phantasmagoria.
Thunder seems to play with the ignorance of man ;
its crimes and jests would have been ascribed to the
devil in olden days. We submit to the effects without
being able to determine the cause which directs them.
It would seem as if lightning were a subtle being
a medium between the unconscious force which lives in
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 91
plants and the conscious force in animals. It is like an
elemental spirit, keen, capricious, malicious or stupid,
far-seeing or blind, wilful or indifferent, passing from
one extreme to another, and of a unique and terrifying
character. We see it twisting into space, moving with
astonishing dexterity among men, appearing and dis-
appearing with the rapidity ... of lightning ... it is
impossible to define its nature.
At all events, it is a great mistake to trifle with it.
It means running great risks. It resents being inter-
fered with, and those who try to probe into its domain
are generally rather cruelly put in their place.
It was an indiscretion of this kind which cost Dr.
Richmann his life.
He had fixed an insulated iron rod from the roof of
his house to his laboratory ; this conducted the atmo-
spheric electricity to him, and he measured its intensity
every day. On August 6, 1753, in the middle of a
violent storm, he was keeping at a distance from the
rod in order to avoid the powerful sparks, and was
waiting for the time to measure it, when, his engraver
entering suddenly, he took a few steps towards him
which brought him too near the conductor. A globe
of blue fire, the size of a fist, struck him on the head
and stretched him stone dead.
This beginning to the study of physics was hardly
92 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
The visitations of lightning are so numerous that it
would naturally be impossible to describe them all in
this small collection. We must, therefore, choose among
them, but here we encounter a great difficulty. Among
the thousands of tours de force and of dexterity accom-
plished by lightning, which should we take and which
leave ? The selection is very difficult, as it means
leaving out a large number of curious examples with a
good many very interesting observations.
We will choose the most important those of which
the authenticity appears incontestable, and which con-
tain the most precise details. We will group together
those among them which present points of resemblance.
This approximate classification will give us a sufficiently
complete picture for the harmony of this study.
One of the most astonishing actions of lightning is
certainly that of leaving the victim in the very attitude
in which he was surprised by death.
Cardan gives an extraordinary example of this
In the course of a violent storm, eight reapers, who
were taking their meal under an oak, were struck, all
eight of them, by the same flash of lightning, the
noise of which could be heard a long way off. When
the passers-by approached to see what had happened,
the reapers thus suddenly petrified by death, appeared
to be continuing their peaceful meal. One held his
glass, another was carrying the bread to his mouth, a
third had his hand on the dish. Death had seized
them all in the position which they occupied when the
We hear of many similar cases to this.
Here is one of a young woman who no doubt was
struck by lightning in the position in which she was
found after the accident. It was during a violent
storm on July 16, 1866; she was alone in the house
at Saint-Romain-les-Atheux (Loire), and outside the
thunder rolled fearfully. When her parents came
back from the fields, they found a sad sight. The
young woman had been killed by lightning. They
found her kneeling in a corner of the room with her
head buried in her hands ; she had no trace of a wound.
Her child of four months, who was in bed in the same
room, was only lightly touched.
Quite recently, on May 24, 1904, at Charolles
(Saone-et-Loire), a certain Mile. Moreau, who lived at
Lesmes, was waiting for the end of a storm in a grocer's
shop where she had been making some purchases.
Several people were gathered round the fireplace. They
felt a great movement following a violent clap of
thunder. The sensation having passed, every one pre-
pared to go. Mile. Moreau alone remained seated, and
did not move. She had been struck by the fluid, which
94 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
had made a hole under her right ear and come out by
the left !
The petrifying action of the electric fluid is so
rapid that horsemen who have been struck have re-
mained on horseback and been carried a long way from
the place of the accident without being unsaddled.
According to Abbe Richard, towards the end of
the eighteenth century, the procurator of the Seminary
of Troyes was coming home on horseback when he was
struck by lightning. A brother who followed him,
not perceiving this, thought that he was asleep when
he saw him reeling. When he tried to awaken him,
he found he was dead.
The following observation is very remarkable on
account of the special attitudes preserved by the bodies
which had been struck :
A vessel which was at Port Mahon was struck at
the time when the crew were dispersed over the yards
to furl the sails. Fifteen sailors who were scattered on
the bowsprit were killed or burned in the twinkling of
an eye. Some were thrown into the water ; others, bent
dead across the yard-arm, remained in the position they
had occupied before the accident.
Often the corpses of people who have been struck
have been found either sitting or standing.
At the approach of a storm a vine-dresser was
seated under a nut tree which was planted near a
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 95
hedge : soon afterwards, when it had ceased raining
and the thunder was quiet, his two sisters, who had
been taking shelter under the hedge, saw him sit-
ting, and called to him to go back to work, but he
did not reply ; on going up to him, they found him
In 1853, in the neighbourhood of Asti, a priest who
was struck while dining remained in his place.
In 1698, a ship was struck at about four o'clock in
the morning, not far from Saint-Pierre. At daybreak
a sailor was found sitting stone dead at the bow of the
ship, with his eyes open and the whole body in such
a natural attitude that he seemed to be alive. He had
suffered no injury either external or internal.
Dr. Boudin describes a still more surprising case.
A woman was struck while she was in the act of
plucking a poppy. The body was found standing, only
slightly bent and with the flower still in her hand. It
is hard to understand how a human body could remain
standing, slightly bent, without a support to prevent
its falling. This case is a contradiction to all the laws
of equilibrium. But with such a fantastic agent as that
with which we are dealing, nothing is surprising we
may expect anything. Thus
On August 2, 1862, lightning struck the entrance
pavilion of the Prince Eugene barracks in Paris just
when the soldiers were going to bed. All those who
96 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
were lying down suddenly found themselves standing,
and those who were standing were thrown on the ground.
In the preceding examples the victims struck dead
are not disfigured by the fulgurant force. They pre-
serve a deceptive appearance of life. The catastrophe
is so sudden that the face has no time to assume a sad
expression. No contraction of the muscles reveals a
transition in the passage of life and death. The eyes
and mouth are open as though in a state of watching.
When the colour of the flesh is preserved, the illusion
is complete. But when we approach these statues of
flesh so lately animated with vital fire, now mummified
by celestial fire we are surprised on touching them to
find that they crumble to ashes.
The garments are intact, the body presents no
difference, it keeps the attitude it had at the supreme
moment, but it is entirely burnt, consumed. Thus
At Vic-sur-Aisne (Aisne) in 1838, in the middle of
a violent storm, three soldiers took shelter under a
lime tree. Lightning struck them all dead at one blow.
All the same, they all three remained standing in their
original positions as though they had not been touched
by the electric fluid : their clothes were intact ! After
the storm some passers-by noticed them, spoke to them
without receiving an answer, and went up to touch
them, when they fell pulverized into a heap of ashes.
This experience is not unique, and even the ancients
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 97
remarked that people who were struck crumbled to
Here is a similar case, no less curious
On June 13, 1893, at Rodez, a shepherd named
Desmazes, seeing that a storm was threatening, collected
his beasts and drove them quickly towards the farm.
When he was just there, he was struck by lightning.
His body, which was completely incinerated, preserved
a natural appearance.
It is by this complete incineration and the probable
volatilization of the cinders that certain authors ex-
plain the sudden disappearance of some of those who
have been struck.
Legend attributes the mysterious death of Romulus
to a similar cause. According to Livy, the illustrious
founder of Rome was reviewing his army in a plain
near the marsh of Capra. Suddenly a storm accom-
panied by violent claps of thunder enveloped the
king in a cloud so thick that it hid him from sight.
From that moment Romulus was seen no more on
It is true, Livy adds, that some of the witnesses
suspected the senators of having torn him to pieces :
kings have sometimes been subject to all kinds of
surprises on the part of their " courtiers."
In most cases the electric matter produces burns
more or less severe. These, when they do not attack
98 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
the whole organism as in the preceding examples, are
localized to certain parts of the body. Sometimes they
are quite superficial and only attack the epidermis.
Often without absolute carbonization, they penetrate
deep into the flesh and cause death after the most
Here are some examples of different sorts of burns
In 1865, in the Rue Pigalle in Paris, a man had
his eyes burnt by lightning.
A young soldier of the 27th Battalion of Chasseurs
was armed, mounting guard at the Col de Soda. It
was in the month of July, 1900. Suddenly he was
surrounded by the dazzling glare of lightning,
which was almost immediately succeeded by an awful
explosion of thunder. The sentinel, leaving his arms,
fell backwards screaming. People ran to him, and
saw that the fluid, attracted by the point of the
bayonet, had struck it, and, gliding down, the metal
had burnt his feet rather severely.
At Malines, in Belgium, a mill was reduced to
splinters by the fire of heaven. The miller and two
of his customers were there at the time of the accident.
Not one of the three men was killed, but the miller
was seriously burnt in the head, on the chin and the
cheeks. He was deaf and blind for twenty-four hours.
One of the others was burned in the hands.
On June 19, 1903, at about six in the evening,
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 99
during a bad storm, five farmers were crossing the
Champ de Gentillerie near Saint-Servan, in order to
take shelter. Three of them were walking abreast,
the two others, of whom one was leading an ass, were
some paces behind, when suddenly the five men and the
ass were thrown on the ground by a violent clap of
thunder. Three of the farmers, recovering their con-
sciousness after the shock, observed that their two
companions were struck ; the head of one was car-
bonized, and the left side of the other was burnt as
though by a red-hot iron.
Another phenomenon, no less appalling
A woman who was struck had her leg so horribly
burnt that, on removing the stocking, some particles of
flesh adhered to it. From the knee to the end of the
foot the skin was black as though carbonized, and the
whole surface was covered with a species of blister full
of a sero-purulent liquid. The burns were very serious
but not mortal, and were localized in the leg.
Lightning also sometimes produces wounds which
are more or less severe. It perforates the bones. The
injuries it causes are similar to those inflicted by fire-
It can also cause partial or total paralysis, the loss
of speech or sight, temporary or permanent. Its action
is manifold on the human organism.
A more extraordinary phenomenon still is that
100 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
people who are struck show no sign of the slightest
injury on a minute medical examination. The
ancients remarked this, as we see in the charming
passage from Plutarch : " Lightning struck them dead
without leaving any mark on the bodies nor any
wound or 'burn their souls fled from their bodies in
fright, like a bird which escapes from its cage.' 1
We have already spoken of the smell of fulminated
air and of ozone. In some cases there is more than
On June 29, 1895, lightning struck a low house
at Moulins in the course of a violent storm. The
fluid, eccentric as usual, attacked the outer chimney,
the bricks of which were loose and projected slightly.
It broke some tiles on the roof, the length of one
rafter, and inside the corn-loft it broke the wooden
handle of an iron rake to splinters. On the ground
floor, bricks were both loosened and torn out near
where the pipe of the stove went into the wall of
A dozen plates were broken in a cupboard to the
left of the hearth, and a woman who happened to be
near it at the time of the explosion, said she had felt
her legs warmed by the burning air which came from
the cupboard. The room was afterwards filled with a
thick infected smoke, a veritable poison.
Sometimes the victims are nearly asphyxiated by
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 101
the fulminic effluvium, and only owe their preservation
to the extreme care which is lavished on them.
Very often the bodies and the clothes of people
who have been struck give forth a nauseous smell
generally similar to that of burning sulphur.
In the month of August, 1879, a woman who had
been struck at Montoulieu, in the Champ Descubert
quarter, had her skull perforated as though a big ball
had passed through it, and her burnt clothes gave forth
Dr. Minonzio relates how three persons were
wounded by lightning on board the Austrian frigate
The Medee. "I remember," he says, "the sensation
which was caused in the locality by the stench which
came from the bodies and clothes of these people who
were struck a stench nearly as offensive as that of
burnt sulphur mingled with empyreumatical oil. 11
One of the most frequent and good-natured effects
of lightning on man is to shave his hair and beard,
to scorch them, or even to depilate the whole
Generally the victim may consider himself lucky if
he leaves a handful of hair as a ransom to the lightning,
and escapes with a fright.
There is even a case given of a young girl of
twenty who had her hair cut as though by a razor,
without perceiving it or feeling the least shock.
102 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
On May 7, 1885, two men who were in a
windmill were struck by lightning. They were both
struck deaf, and the hair and beard and eyebrows of
one were burnt. In addition to this, their clothes
crumbled to the touch.
A man, who must have been very hairy, was struck
by lightning near Aix. The electric current raised
the hairs of his body in ridges from the breast to the
feet, rolled them into pellets, and incrusted them
deeply in the calf of the leg.
Very often the injury to the hair, instead of being
spread all over the body, limits itself to certain places
where it is thicker or damper on the body of a man,
and more especially on that of a woman. Here are
some curious examples.
In Dr. Sestier's learned work, vol. ii. p. 45, we read
the following case observed at Montpellier :
"Accidit apud Monspelienses ut fulmen cadens in
domum vicarii generalis de Grassi pudendum puellae
ancillae pilos abraserit ut Bartassius in muliere sibi
familiari olim factum fuisse. 11
Toaldo Richard has described similar experiences,
and d'Hombres Firmas has described several others :
A number of people were assembled at Mas-Lacoste,
near Nimes, when lightning penetrated to where they
were. A girl of twenty-six was thrown over and became
unconscious ; when she came to her senses, she could
hardly support herself or walk, and felt a great deal of
pain in the centre of her body. When she was alone
with her friends, they examined her, and they saw " non
sine miratione pudendum perustum ruberrimum, labia
tumefacta pilos deficientes usque ad bulbum punctosque
nigros pro pilis, inde cutim rugosissimam ; ejus referunt
amicae primum barbatissimam et hoc facto semper
Lightning is indeed a joker, but so it has always
In most cases the hair grows again, but sometimes
the system is completely destroyed, and the victim
must either wear a wig or go bald.
We have already spoken further back of the case of
Dr. Gaultier, of Claubry, who was struck one day by
globular lightning, near Blois, and had his beard shaved
off and destroyed for ever ; it never grew again. He
nearly died of a curious malady, his head swelled to
the size of a metre and a half in circumference.
We also hear of corpses of people who have been
struck, which show no other injury than a complete or
For example, a woman who was struck in the road
had the hair completely pulled out of the top of her
On July 25, 1900, a farm servant, Pierre Roux,
was killed while in the act of loading a waggon of hay.
104 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
The only trace the lightning left behind it was to
completely scorch the beard of its victim.
Now, here is a case the complete opposite of the
preceding ones and still more curious, in which the
capricious and fantastic lightning attacked the epidermis
without burning the hair which covered it.
At Dampierre thunder broke over a house belonging
to M. Saumois. His arm, one leg, and the left side of
his body were burnt, and the extraordinary thing is
that the skin of the arm was burnt leaving the hair
A little further on we shall have cases where the
lightning has proved salutary in certain forms of
Generally the people who are struck fall at once
without a struggle.
It has been proved by a great number of observa-
tions that the man who has been struck by lightning
so as to lose consciousness immediately falls without
having seen, heard, or felt anything. This is easy to
believe, since electricity is animated by a movement
much quicker than that of light, and still more so than
that of sound. The eye and ear are paralyzed before
the lightning and the thunder could have made an
impression on them ; so much so that the victims,
when they recover themselves, are unable to explain
what has happened to them.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 105
People struck by lightning nearly always sink on
the very spot where they have been struck. Besides
this, we have already remarked several cases where the
people struck have preserved the exact positions they
had at the moment of the catastrophe.
But, on the other hand, we can quote some examples,
rarer, but diametrically opposed to these.
On July 8, 1839, lightning struck an oak near
Triel (Seine-et-Oise), and also struck two quarrymen,
father and son. This last was killed dead, raised, and
transported twenty-three yards away.
The surgeon Brillouet was surprised by a storm
near Chantilly, and was raised by the lightning and
deposited twenty-five paces from where he had been.
On August 18, 1884, at Namur (Belgium), a man
was flung ten yards from the tree under which he had
been struck by lightning,
The following notice was in the papers in August,
" Brousses-et-Villaret (Aude), August 20. During
the storm which burst over that region the lightning
killed two cows belonging to M. Bouchere. It also struck,
but without hurting him, a young man of twenty-three
years of age, Bernard Robart, artilleryman, who was
taking a holiday. He was walking to a neighbouring
farm when he was suddenly carried through the air for
fifty yards. He got up again without any hurt, onlv
106 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
he was dazzled by the lightning which had flashed
before his eyes."
On writing to the victim to verify this fact, I
received the following answer :
" I have the honour to inform you that the article
relating to the incident which happened to me during
the lightning, on the 17th, is absolutely true.
"I was on leave at Brousses, Canton of Saissac
(Aude). I left my uncle's house at about 8 p.m.
There had been a heavy storm. The rain had nearly
stopped for about two or three minutes, but it still fell
a little. There had been a good deal of thunder during
the storm. I was sleeping at home, the house being
about two hundred yards away. It was very dark, and
seeing that the rain was going to begin again with
violence, I started to run. I went very quick. I was
crossing the Place, and when I arrived in front of
M. Combes' 1 house, I suddenly felt myself stopped, and
without being able to explain how, I found myself in
the same instant at the other side of the Place, lying
on the ground against the wall of M. Maistre's house.
I was astounded ; I waited a good minute without
knowing where I was. When I got home I felt a
severe pain in the right knee, and I perceived that my
trousers were torn and that I had a big scar on my
knee, and that my hands were slightly scorched. It
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 107
must have happened against the wall where there were
some loose stones. I was transported about fifty yards,
and I cannot tell you if it thundered at the same time,
but there had been a big clap about a minute before.
Two people who were leaving M. Combes' house were
witness of the fact. The lightning penetrated into
M. Bouchere's stables two hundred yards away, and
killed two cows and broke the leg of another. As it
went in it broke the cover of the doorway, which was
of freestone, in two, and knocked over a chair and seven
or eight bottles which were on a shelf.
" Believe me, etc.,
" Artilleryman, Fort Saint Nicholas,
Thus we have several examples of people being
transported 20, 30, and 50 yards from the point where
the lightning has struck them.
Sometimes the bodies of people who are struck are
as stiff as iron and retain their stiffness.
On June 30, 1854, a waggoner, thirty-five years ot
age, was struck in Paris. The next day Dr. Sestier saw
his corpse at the Morgue : it was perfectly stiff. The
next day, forty-four hours after the death, this stiffness
was still most marked.
Some years ago, in the Commune of Hectomare
108 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
(Eure), lightning struck a man named Delabarre, who
was holding a piece of bread in his hand. The con-
tractility of the nerves was so strong that it could not
be taken from him.
On the other hand, the bodies very often remain
flexible after death, as in life.
On September 17, 1780, a violent storm burst
over Eastbourne. A coachman and footman were
killed. "Although the bodies remained from Sunday
to Tuesday unburied," remarked an observer, "all
their limbs were as flexible as those of living
Sometimes the corpses soften and decompose rapidly,
leaving an unbearable odour.
On June 15, 1794, lightning killed a lady in a
ballroom at Fribourg. The corpse rapidly gave forth
a curious odour of putrefaction. The doctor could
hardly examine it without fainting. The inhabitants
of the house were obliged to go away thirty-six hours
after the death, the odour was so penetrating. It was
with difficulty that they were able to put the fetid
corpse into a coffin. It fell to pieces.
The flabbiness often observed in the bodies of
people who are struck is due, no doubt, to the fact
that in the case of enormous discharge, the stiffness
of a dead body develops so quickly, and is of such a
short duration, that it may escape observation.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 109
Numbers of experiments made on animals justify
Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, bodies which
have been struck decompose rapidly, which explains
quite naturally the softness of bodies killed by lightning.
The colouration of these presents numerous varieties ;
sometimes the face is of a corpse-like paleness, at others
it preserves its natural colour.
In many cases, the face is livid, red, violet, violet-
bronze, black, yellow, and even covered over with brown
or blue spots.
The colouration of the face may be extended over
all or nearly all the body.
The eight reapers who were killed under an oak,
quoted by Cardan in our first example, were quite
That the subtle fluid accumulated in great masses
in the clouds should kill a man, deprive him of move-
ment, annihilate his faculties, or slightly wound him
this ought not to astonish us when we contemplate
the marvellous results and the prodigies of strength
accomplished by the much more feeble electricity of
But the extraordinary point about lightning is its
variety of action. Why does it not invariably kill
those it strikes? and why does it sometimes not even
wound them ?
110 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
There are inexplicable subtleties in the world.
One knows of many examples of people who are
struck whose garments remain absolutely intact. The
imponderable fluid insinuates itself through the gar-
ments, leaving no trace of its passage, and may cause
grave disorders in the body of a man without any
exterior mark to reveal it to the most perspicacious
We hear of the case of a man who had nearly the
whole of his right side burnt from the arm to the foot,
as though it had been for a long time too near a quick
fire, but his shirt, his pants, and the rest of his clothes
were untouched by the fire.
The Abbe Pinel gives the case of a man who,
amongst other injuries, had his right foot very badly
lacerated, while the left was untouched ; the right sabot
was untouched, and the left was broken.
On June 10, 1895, at Bellenghise, near Saint-
Quentin, a lady was killed under a tree : she had deep
marks of burning on the breast and stomach, but her
clothes remained intact. Lightning is very mystifying.
Th. Neale cites a case where the hands were burnt
to the bone in gloves which remained intact !
At other times, garments, even those nearest the
skin, are perforated, burnt, and torn, without the
surface of the skin being injured.
Thus the boot of a man who had been struck was
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 111
so torn that it was reduced to ashes, while there was
no trace of a wound on the foot.
An extraordinary case in point happened at Vabreas
(Vaucluse) in July, 1873. A peasant was in the fields
when there was a violent clap of thunder. The electric
fluid struck his head, shaved the left side, and completely
burnt his hat. Then, continuing its route, it tore his
garments, penetrated the length of his legs, and tore
his trousers from top to bottom. Finally, it transported
the unfortunate man, nearly naked, six or seven yards
from his original place, and laid him on his stomach
on a bush with his head hanging over the edge of a
Sometimes, when the garments are seriously injured,
we find slight injuries under the skin which do not
always correspond to the places where the garment is
most seriously affected.
Lichtenberg quotes the case of a man who had his
clothes cut as by the point of a knife from the shoulders
to the feet, without the sign of a wound except a small
sore on the foot under the buckle of the shoe.
According to Howard, a man had his clothes torn
to atoms without showing any trace of the action of
the electric fluid on the surface of his body, except a
light mark on the forehead.
Sometimes, as we have already said, the inner
garments are burnt while the outer ones are respected.
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
A woman had her chemise scorched by the fire of
heaven, while her dress and petticoats were spared.
On June 14, 1774, lightning fell at Poitiers in a yard
where a young cooper was working. It went under
his right foot, burning his shoe, passed between his
stocking and leg, singed the stocking without wounding
the leg, burned the lining of his trousers, raised the
epidermis of the abdomen, tore off a brass button
which fastened his garment, and went off to twist
a carpenter round in a neighbouring lane. Neither
one nor the other felt the effects of this stroke of
Finally, the clothes, above all the shoes, are unsewn
carefully and without a tear, as though by the hand of
a clever workman.
Here are two cases in a thousand
On June 18, 1872, at Grange Forestiere, near Petit-
Creusot, a man had his trousers unsewn from top to
bottom and his shoes taken off.
In the department of Eure-et-Loire, some peasants
were engaged in binding sheaves, and their daughter,
aged nine, was playing near them when a storm broke
with great violence.
" Let us go in, I am frightened," she cried, running
to take refuge between her parents.
"We will go in immediately, but we must finish
binding before the rain comes on."
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 113
"Then I will beg of the Good God to keep the
thunder from us."
And while the father and mother continued their
work, the child went down on her knees, and with her
hands over her eyes commenced her prayer.
Suddenly, without hearing or seeing anything, the
father felt the straw move under his feet; he turned
mechanically, and gave a great cry on seeing his little
daughter stretched motionless on the ground. She was
dead. Her little corset was unsewn and her chemise
But of all the fantastic actions of lightning, the
most extraordinary and incomprehensible is the mania
it has for undressing its victims, and leaving them dead
or fainting in the primitive costume of our first parents
or in a dress too simple to be allowed by our civilized
This deplorable and quite inexplicable habit has
given lightning a large scientific dossier, from which
we have already cited examples in the first chapter,
and from which we will again extract some fragments.
Near Angers, on May 12, 1901, a farm lad named
Rousteau, aged twenty-three, was killed by lightning in
the middle of the fields. The corpse was found nearly
On June 29, 1869, at Pradettes (Ariege), the Mayor
116 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
several of these were found hanging on the branches
of the tree.
One day a workman was sheltering under the shed
of a kiosque in which there were five men playing cards.
He was grazed by lightning. The fluid, after having
passed between the players without hurting them, left
the kiosque, and removed a shoe from the poor workman,
who was petrified with fright. They searched for the
shoe which had been confiscated by the fulminant
matter, but in vain.
Moreover, lightning seems to have a special pre-
dilection for shoes ; it seldom respects them, even when
it spares the other garments. Sabots, shoes, and even
boots are removed, unsewn, un-nailed, cut to pieces, and
thrown far away with extraordinary violence. Very
often the discharge penetrates into the human body by
the head and leaves it by the feet.
During a violent storm (June 8, 1868) a workman
was passing near the Jardin des Plantes, when he
felt a great oppression on his stomach. He was then
knocked down roughly by an irresistible force, and
deprived of the use of his senses at the moment of
the fall. He was picked up and taken home, and on
being examined, his body bore no trace of a wound,
and he escaped with a fright. But some days after,
when he had recovered from the shock, he remembered
that he had worn boots at the time of the accident.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 117
These had disappeared, the lightning had stolen them
from him, though it acted from a distance. The boots
were found in the street, and the soles had the nails
completely removed, although they were screwed in and
the boots were nearly new.
On May 31, 1904, at Villemontoire (Aisne), a work-
man was killed on a hay-cock, his clothes were reduced
to fragments, and his shoes were not to be found.
Two other workmen were wounded, and the cock was
set on fire.
On May 11, 1893, lightning broke over the Com-
mune of Chapelle-en-Blezy (Haute-Marne). A young
shepherd, who was watching his flock in the fields, was
knocked over by the fluid and lost consciousness.
When he came to himself he found that his sabots and
cap had disappeared.
Arago states that a workman was struck under a
pavilion, and that the pieces of his hat were found
embedded in the ceiling.
Biot gives the case of a hat which was flung ten
paces without a breath of wind.
We could multiply these very curious observations,
but we must restrain ourselves so as to remain within
the limits of this little book. Did I not say just now
that lightning has sometimes though very rarely
exercised a beneficial influence on sick people it strikes ?
Yes ; we hear of several cases where thunder has
116 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
several of these were found hanging on the branches
of the tree.
One day a workman was sheltering under the shed
of a kiosque in which there were five men playing cards.
He was grazed by lightning. The fluid, after having
passed between the players without hurting them, left
the kiosque, and removed a shoe from the poor workman,
who was petrified with fright. They searched for the
shoe which had been confiscated by the fulminant
matter, but in vain.
Moreover, lightning seems to have a special pre-
dilection for shoes ; it seldom respects them, even when
it spares the other garments. Sabots, shoes, and even
boots are removed, unsewn, un-nailed, cut to pieces, and
thrown far away with extraordinary violence. Very
often the discharge penetrates into the human body by
the head and leaves it by the feet.
During a violent storm (June 8, 1868) a workman
was passing near the Jardin des Plantes, when he
felt a great oppression on his stomach. He was then
knocked down roughly by an irresistible force, and
deprived of the use of his senses at the moment of
the fall. He was picked up and taken home, and on
being examined, his body bore no trace of a wound,
and he escaped with a fright. But some days after,
when he had recovered from the shock, he remembered
that he had worn boots at the time of the accident.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 117
These had disappeared, the lightning had stolen them
from him, though it acted from a distance. The boots
were found in the street, and the soles had the nails
completely removed, although they were screwed in and
the boots were nearly new.
On May 31, 1904, at Villemontoire (Aisne), a work-
man was killed on a hay-cock, his clothes were reduced
to fragments, and his shoes were not to be found.
Two other workmen were wounded, and the cock was
set on fire.
On May 11, 1893, lightning broke over the Com-
mune of Chapelle-en-Blezy (Haute-Marne). A young
shepherd, who was watching his flock in the fields, was
knocked over by the fluid and lost consciousness.
When he came to himself he found that his sabots and
cap had disappeared.
Arago states that a workman was struck under a
pavilion, and that the pieces of his hat were found
embedded in the ceiling.
Biot gives the case of a hat which was flung ten
paces without a breath of wind.
We could multiply these very curious observations,
but we must restrain ourselves so as to remain within
the limits of this little book. Did I not say just now
that lightning has sometimes though very rarely
exercised a beneficial influence on sick people it strikes ?
Yes ; we hear of several cases where thunder has
118 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
shown itself a rival to the noblest disciples of
Esculapius, and where it has worked veritable miracles.
For instance, a person who had been paralyzed
thirty-eight years, suddenly, at the age of forty-four,
recovered the use of her legs, after a stroke of lightning.
A paralytic had been taking the curative waters of
Tunbridge Wells for twenty years, when the spark
touched him and cured him of his terrible infirmity.
Lightning has sometimes worked marvels on the
blind, deaf, and dumb, to whom it restores sight,
hearing, and speech.
A man who had the whole of his left side paralyzed
from infancy was struck in his room on August 10,
1807. He lost consciousness for twenty minutes, but
after some days he gradually and permanently re-
covered the use of his limbs. A weakness of the right
eye also disappeared, and the invalid could write
without spectacles. On the other hand, he became
Indeed, if we are to believe stories which appear to
be authentic, a cold, a tumour, and rheumatism have
been cured by lightning. We have given an example
in our first chapter.
It is impossible to explain in what manner the
subtle fluid accomplishes these wonderful cures. Are
they to be attributed to the shock, to a general up-
heaval which brings back the circulation to its normal
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 119
course? Or are we to attribute to the electric sub-
stance still unknown to physicians and physiologists
an action capable of overcoming the most inveterate
The science of Therapeutics already makes excellent
use of the electricity of the machines. Can we, then,
marvel much that lightning should rival our feeble
electric resources ? No ! What a number of services
might it not render if it were not for its mad inde-
pendence ! What an amount of lost power there is in
the gleam of lightning !
As a matter of fact, we owe no gratitude to light-
ning. There are too many miseries for a few happy
results. The balance is really too unequal.
Some lightning strokes have proved veritable dis-
asters, on account of the number of the victims and
the havoc which has been caused.
The most extraordinary of these are the following :
On a feast-day lightning penetrated into a church
near Carpentras. Fifty people were killed or wounded
or rendered imbecile.
On July 2, 1717, lightning struck a church at
Seidenburg, near Zittau, during the service ; forty-eight
people were killed or wounded.
On June 26, 1783, lightning struck the church of
Villars-le-Terroy, when its bells were being rung; it
killed eleven people, and wounded thirteen.
120 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
On board the sloop Sapho, in February, 1820, six
men were killed by a stroke of lightning and fourteen
On board the ship Repulse, near the shores of
Catalonia, on April 13, 1813, lightning killed eight
men in the rigging and wounded nine, of whom several
On July 11, 1857, three hundred people were
assembled in the church at Grosshad, a small village,
two miles from Diiren, when lightning struck it;
one hundred people were wounded, thirty of them
seriously. Six were killed, and they were six hardy
Early in July, 1865, lightning fell on the territory
of Coray (Finisterre) in a warren where sixteen people
were weeding. Six men and a child were killed by the
same stroke, and three others were severely wounded.
Several were stripped naked, their garments being
scattered in rags over the ground ; their shoes were cut
to pieces and all broken. A curious point is that the
workers were struck at a distance of 100 yards from
On July 12, 1887, at Mount Pleasant (Tennessee,
U.S.A.), lightning killed nine people who were taking
refuge under an oak during a storm. These formed
part of a procession which was conducting a negress to
her last home.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 121
Here is another very curious and complex
On the last Sunday in June, 1867, during Vespers,
lightning struck a church at Dance, Canton of Saint-
Germain-Laval (Loire). A deathlike silence succeeded
the noise of the explosion, then a cry was heard, then
a hundred more. The cure, who thought that he alone
had received the whole electric discharge and was in
reality unhurt left his place, where he was enveloped
in a cloud of dust and smoke, and spoke to his
parishioners from the Communion rails, to reassure
them. " It is nothing," he said. " Keep your places ;
there is no harm done. v
He was mistaken ; twenty-five to thirty people had
been more or less struck. Four were carried away un-
conscious, but the worst treated of all was the treasurer.
In raising him they perceived that his eyes were open,
but dull and veiled, and he gave no sign of life. His
clothes were burnt, and his shoes, which were torn and
full of blood, were removed from his feet.
The Monstrance, which had been exposed, had been
thrown down on the ground, and was battered and
pierced in the stem, and the Host had disappeared.
The priest searched for it for a long time, and finally
discovered it on the altar in the middle of the corporal,
on a thick bed of rubbish.
Three or four yards of the wainscoting of the choir
122 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
had burnt into atoms. Outside, the arrow of the belfry
had been carried off, and its slates were scattered about
in the neighbouring fields.
On June 22, 1902, lightning struck, the church of
Pineiro (Province of Orense, Spain) during a funeral.
There were twenty-five dead and thirty-five severely
These are cases of destruction on a large scale, but
we can give parallel cases where the terrible fluid seems
only to amuse itself.
In fact, some people appear to enjoy the privilege
of particularly attracting lightning, and of frequently
receiving its visits without suffering much from its
They say that Mithridates was twice touched by
lightning. The first stroke was when he was in his
cradle, his swaddling clothes were singed, and the scar
of a burn which he received on his forehead was covered
with hair afterwards.
According to the Abbe Richard, a lady, who lived
in a chateau on an elevation near Bourgogne, saw the
lightning several times enter her room, divide itself
into sparks of different sizes, of which the greater part
attached themselves to her clothes without burning
them, and left livid traces on her arms and even on her
thighs. She said, when speaking on this subject, that
thunder had never done her more harm than to whip
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 123
her two or three times, though it fell pretty often on
There seems to be a sort of relative immunity in
women and children. These are seldom struck. We
have even several examples of children remaining safe
and sound in the arms of their mothers who are struck.
Fracastor's mother had her child to her breast when
she was struck by lightning. The child itself was
In August, 1853, at Georgetown (Essex), Mrs.
Russel, wife of the Protestant minister, was killed by
lightning, while a small child which she had in her
arms was unhurt.
It would seem as if lightning pitied the feeble the
women and children.
We hear of cases where people were struck several
times during the same storm without succumbing to its
" In two similar situations, 1 * says Arago, " one man,
according to the nature of his constitution, runs more
risk than another. There are some exceptional people
who are not conductors to the fulminating matter,
and who neither receive nor pass on a shock. As a
rule, they must be ranked among the non-con-
ductor bodies that the lightning respects, or, at least,
that it strikes rarely. Such decided differences could
not exist without there being finer shades. Thus each
124 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
degree of conductibility corresponds during the time
of a storm to a certain degree of danger. The man
who conducts like a metal will be struck as often
as a metal, while the man who cuts off the com-
munication in the chain, will have almost as little
to fear as if he were made of glass or resin. Between
these limits there will be found individuals whom
lightning might strike as it would strike wood, stones,
etc. Thus, in the phenomena of lightning, every-
thing does not depend on the place that a man may
occupy; his physical constitution will have something
to do with it.
The phantasmagoria of lightning leaves us perplexed.
All these observations are extraordinary and very dis-
concerting. The facts contradict each other, and lead
us to no actual conclusion.
The Gazette de Cologne gave the following case in
June, 1867 :-
At Czempin, a young girl of eighteen was struck by
lightning while she was working near a hearth. She
remained unconscious, in spite of all the efforts made
to revive her. At last, acting on the advice of an old
man, they placed her in a freshly dug ditch, and covered
her body with earth, but in such a way as to avoid stifling
her. After some hours she recovered consciousness, and
was restored to health.
Sometimes lightning amuses itself nicely and
innocently. It mixes in the society of men without
doing them harm, or leaving any remembrance but a
One day lightning entered by the chimney into the
middle of a lively dance at M. Van Gestien's, the inn-
keeper at Flone (Belgium). At the sight of it the
dancers were petrified with terror, and not one could
try and escape. But they misunderstood the intentions
of the lightning, which were of the most straight-
forward ; it only wanted to be a spoil-sport. It also
had the good taste to depart quietly.
After the first excitement a profound stupefaction
seized hold of the persons present ; they were all trans-
formed into niggers. The lightning had swept the
chimney, and cast the soot into the ball-room, powder-
ing all the faces and toilettes.
Lightning might be the daughter of goblins rather
than a messenger from Olympus. The following facts
might confirm this impression :
At Bayonne, on June 6, 1873, lightning knocked
over a gas-burner, and threw a person down, after
making her turn round three times. A family of
twelve were gathered together at a table, sixty yards,
at least, from the point where it burst. They were
all knocked down, but without sustaining any injury.
During a violent storm, lightning entered a country
house by the chimney ; it lifted two big stones from
126 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
the hearth, and carried them over to near the head
of a child who was asleep, and placed one on each
side, without grazing it or hurting the child.
And this same lightning, whose almost maternal
delicacy is quite exquisite, entered another time, also
by the chimney, into a house, hit a man savagely on
the head, wounded him severely, and left him dead
in the middle of a pool of blood. Then it took a
quantity of this blood which was accumulated round
his head, and went and stuck it on the ceiling of the
higher story. A child who was present at this tragic
scene was unhurt.
In August, 1901, an electric spark penetrated into
a house in the village of Porri, near Ajaccio, and
started to make the tour of the property. First it
visited the second-floor rooms, without doing much
damage there; then it went down to the first floor,
where there were two young girls, turned them round,
and burnt their legs. It continued on its course as
far as the cellar, where its dazzling brightness terrified
three young children who had taken refuge . there. It
spared two, but burned the third rather severely.
Let us finish this series of electric pictures, which
depict sometimes in a very tragic manner the dif-
ferent modes of activity of one of the grandest of
Nature's phenomena, by two facts, the strangeness of
which surpasses everything that one can imagine.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON MANKIND 127
Pliny gives the case of a Roman lady, who, having
been struck by lightning during her confinement, had
a stillborn child, without herself suffering the least
The Abbe Richard, in his Histoire de TAir, gives
a more extraordinary case still. At Altenbourg, in
Saxony, in July, 1713, lightning struck a woman who
was expecting her confinement. She was delivered
some hours afterwards of a child who was half burnt,
and whose body was all black. The mother recovered
We can neither define nor delimit the power of
lightning. Sometimes merciful, often cruel, it con-
stitutes in the universality of its actions, one of Nature's
most terrible scourges.
THE EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS
ANIMALS, even more than mankind, attract the fire
of heaven. Lightning has a certain regard for human
beings, which it seems to lose entirely when it is a
case of the humble and faithful servants that Nature
has given us.
And, between ourselves, thunder is not always as
absurd as it appears. Its proceedings are sometimes
even very tactful. Though it may often strike innocent
victims blindly and ferociously; yet it seems at times
to show a certain amount of intelligence. Thus we
find among our many examples a strange fact, which
will serve to reconcile our thoughts a little to thunder.
On June 20, 1872, in Kentucky State, we have
already cited the case of the nigger Norris, who was
going to be hanged for the murder of a mulatto com-
panion, and who, just as he was putting his foot on
the fatal platform, was struck by lightning, and thus
spared the sheriff the trouble of hurling him into
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 129
Here was a case where thunder was full of justice,
and we cannot praise it too much.
Arago gives another case where a chief of brigands
was shut up in a Bavarian prison, together with his
accomplices. No doubt he was encouraging their
arrogance by his blasphemies the stone to which he
was attached acting as a tribune for him when he
was suddenly struck by lightning while haranguing
his disciples. He fell dead. The iron manacles had
brought on the disaster, but the brigands did not
stop to think of this natural cause ; they were just as
terrified as if the iron had not been there, and the
lightning had chosen its victim with intelligence.
Here is another instance
The favourite of a prince had obtained from him
a written recognition of her son. She counted on this
to give trouble to the State after the death of her
benefactor. She enclosed it carefully in a chest, and
went and buried it deep in a wood, hoping to render
all search useless, if the prince should change his
But behold, the lightning intervened ; the tree was
struck, and the open chest was thrown on the highway,
where it was found by a peasant.
Animals are worse treated than men, but better
than plants and inorganic bodies. What are the causes
of this difference ? Can we attribute it to physical
130 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
predisposition ? But this has not yet been proved.
Experience shows that sparks directed on the vertebral
column are particularly dangerous. Now, the backs
of quadrupeds are greatly exposed to mortal strokes
from the celestial fire.
Their fur or their plumage, which form an intrinsic
part of their bodies, put them more or less in the
situation of a man who, to protect himself from in-
clemency, should envelop himself in his hair, supposing
this to be long enough and rich enough to cover him
Animals rarely survive when struck. When they
do not die on the spot, they succumb soon after to
their wounds. The ancients have remarked on this.
" Man," says Pliny, " is the only animal that light-
ning does not always kill; all the others die on the
spot. It is a prerogative granted to him by Nature,
though so many animals surpass him in strength."
And, further on, he adds that amongst birds the eagle
is never struck. This has given it the name of porte
But these assertions are slightly exaggerated, and
we can quote a certain number of examples of animals
which have resisted the baneful influence of the electric
In 1901, a horse was touched by lightning, which
was certainly attracted by the iron of his shoe.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 131
It traced two deep trails right along the animal's
leg, where the skin was abrased, and appeared as
though it were cauterized. These two lines joined
together at the fold of the ham, and then formed a
single furrow, all sign of which was lost in the
abdominal region. The rest of the body was unhurt,
and the animal sustained no further harm after being
struck than it would have done if an incompetent
veterinary surgeon had fired him too severely.
On July 4, 1884, at Castres, ten persons and
nine horses were struck by lightning ; all survived the
On June 9, 1886, in the Grand Duchy of Luxem-
bourg, three cows and a little girl, who was in charge
of them, were knocked over by a violent shock. The
child and the beasts soon got up. Only an ox was
killed some distance from there.
Very often horses are stunned by the discharge on
animals which are killed, but after a time they recover.
This phenomenon has also been observed in other
animals. For instance, five or six pigs which were in
a cage in the prow of a ship were killed by an electric
discharge, whilst others which were only separated from
them by a cloth were saved.
But the cases are rare in which animals do not
succumb to lightning. They nearly always perish.
At present we will only discuss animals as a body,
132 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
equal, or superior to man. The others, the smaller
ones, offer a still more convincing generality.
All animals seem to be greatly exposed to the
wrath of Jupiter; nevertheless, some species appear to
be peculiarly sensitive to lightning the gentle sheep,
for example, which huddle together fraternally during a
storm, and fall in a mass, struck by the fire of heaven.
I have before me a list of animals which have been
struck. There are some of every kind. We might divide
Several hundred rams, sheep, 3 goats,
and ewes. 3 cats.
73 horses, mares, and colts. 3 mules.
71 oxen, cows, or bulls. 2 pigs.
9 dogs. 1 hare.
4 asses. 1 squirrel.
A prodigious quantity of geese, chickens, pigeons,
and small birds.
Fish also contribute a respectable contingent to
As a rule, large groups of animals are dangerous
when there is thunder, as they seem to exercise a strong
attractive influence to the electric fluid.
Often entire herds are destroyed by lightning. Dr.
Boudin gives the following example :
On May 11, 1865, at about 6.30 p.m., Hubert
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 133
Wera, a shepherd who was surprised in the fields when
a storm overtook him, was hurrying home with his
flock. On coming to a narrow and difficult road, the
sheep formed themselves into two groups. The shepherd
took shelter behind a bush, when a terrible clap of
thunder was heard. Lightning struck him and his
flock. The unfortunate man was struck on the top of
his head. All his hair had been taken from the nape
of his neck, and the electric fluid had traced a ridge
on his forehead, his face, and breast. His body was
quite naked ; all his clothes were reduced to rags.
Moreover, there was no trace of blood. The iron of
his crook had been detached from the handle and
thrown several yards away, and the handle itself was
broken to pieces. A small metal crucifix and a scapular
belonging to the unfortunate shepherd were found
fifteen yards away.
Of the flock of 152 sheep, 126 were killed. They
were covered with blood, and their wounds were as
varied as they were peculiar. Some had their heads
chopped, others had them pierced from side to side,
others had their legs fractured. As to the dog, he
was not to be found.
On May 13, 1803, near Fehrbellin (Prussian States),
one clap of thunder killed a shepherd and 40 sheep.
On June 1, 1826, thunder killed 64 hairy beasts
in a field at Gulpin (Limbourg).
134 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
At Prades, on July 28, 1890, 340 sheep were
struck at one blow.
During a violent storm which burst over Montmaur
in the Isere, lightning struck a flock of 90 sheep, and
In the month of April, 1869, thunder burst over a
sheepfold in which there were 80 sheep.
Fifty of these were found entirely carbonized, the
thirty others were covered with sores, on the head, in
the eyes, and on the back, and half asphyxiated by the
fulminant fluid. The poor sheep were all cowering
On August 11, 1905, a flock of sheep were car-
bonized, and cattle of every kind were struck.
At Limoges, on July 4, 1884, 42 cows or oxen
were struck by the spark. They were all joined
together by an iron chain.
On June 24, 1822, near Hayengen (Wurtemberg),
a shepherd and 216 sheep out of 288, were struck in
the open field.
Lastly, according to Abbadie, a storm in Ethiopia
killed in one single stroke, 2000 goats and their
shepherd. These figures are, I think, sufficiently
eloquent, and if it were not for fear of fatiguing my
readers, who might become bored, we could add a great
many similar examples to this list. But it would
be superfluous to expatiate further on the dangers
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 135
incurred in a storm by large agglomerations of animals.
In their terror, beasts, particularly sheep, press closely
together, and are soaked by the rain. In this way
they offer a large surface, which absolutely conducts
the lightning. Also the column of vapour which rises
from these living masses, affords an excellent passage
for the fluid to pass through while crossing over the
bodies of the poor beasts. It would be better to dis-
perse the flock, rather than form a compact group of
them, during a storm.
One sometimes wonders also what would be the
effect of lightning on animals arranged in a file.
Would it act the same with atmospheric electricity as
with that in our laboratories ? Would the influence
of the electric matter be more dangerous in the
extremities than in the middle ?
When lightning meets a metallic bar, it does no
harm except on entering and departing. On the other
hand, when several people form a chain, holding hands,
if the first touches the body of a Ley den electrical jar
and the last touches the top, the whole circle will
instantaneously receive a shock. Only those in the
middle receive a less violent one than those who touch
the jar. Well, the discharges from the clouds produce
similar effects on men and animals.
Arago supports this by the following facts :
At Flavigny (Cote-d'Or), five horses were in a stable
136 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
when the lightning penetrated. The two first and the
two last perished, the fifth, which was in the middle,
One day lightning fell on an open field on five
horses in a line and killed the first and last ; the three
others were spared.
But we should require a much larger number of
proofs before we could be sure of this.
In certain cases, lightning, always fantastic and
extraordinary, seems to make a fastidious choice of its
victims. It kills one, spares another, strikes a third,
does good to a fourth what a strange game ! how
Madame la Comtesse Mycielska, of the Duchy of
Posen, wrote to me recently
"During a storm which took place in the month of
August, 1901, lightning entered by a half-open door
into a stable where there were twenty cows, and killed
ten. Beginning with that which was nearest the door,
the second was spared, the third killed, the fourth was
uninjured, and so on. All the uneven numbers were
killed, the others were not even burnt. The shepherd
who was in the stable at the time of the shock, got up
unhurt. The lightning did not burn the building,
although the stable was full of straw. 11
"We have given a similar case in the chapter on
Fireballs. A propos of this, M. Elisee Duval, of
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 137
Criquetot TEsneval (Seine-Inferieure), relates a very
remarkable case. On June 20, 1892, lightning fell on
the telegraph poles of Havre and Etretat. A dozen
were thrown over, and the curious part is that every
second one was knocked down.
Here is a more extraordinary case still. We were
not aware that thunder could distinguish between
colours, and that it has its preferences amongst them.
Well, we need no longer be surprised at this. Here we
have a case where the fluid declares itself distinctly
in favour of black. It was at Lapleau in Correze.
One day thunder fell on a grange full of hay and
straw, and covered with thatch, without setting it on
fire. Then it went to the sheepfold and killed seven
black sheep, and left the white alone.
This choice is categorical, and people who fear
lightning might follow this example by wearing long
white garments in a storm. Unfortunately, lightning
is so eccentric and uncertain, that we must not defy
it ; it is not to be trusted.
Who can explain why it sometimes glides into a
stable full of cows without injuring one? This extra-
ordinary thing happened in the Commune of Grigni-
After a great clap of thunder, all the cows that
were in a shed became unfastened, without one of
them beins hurt.
138 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
There, again, the lightning only seemed to want to
make itself useful.
If, in some cases, by a providential chance, cattle
have been saved, it is none the less true that an animal
very rarely survives a discharge which has caused the
death of a human being.
But, as there is no rule without exceptions, we will
give the following :
The sky was dark and lowering, and a shepherd,
seeing that there was about to be a storm, ran to his
flock to drive it to the shed. Just at the same moment,
lightning burst and knocked him down, together with
thirty sheep. The beasts all got up soon, but the
poor shepherd was dead.
On another occasion, on June 13, 1893, a
shepherd was killed by lightning, and the remarkable
thing was that only one sheep out of the hundred of
the flock was struck.
On June 17, 1883, thunder entered a sheepfold,
containing one hundred sheep. Only four perished.
One of them was marked on the back with a cross,
formed of two rectilinear grooves, penetrating to the
skin ; only the wool was removed.
Sometimes, but very rarely, men and animals
survive the discharge.
Thus, Dr. Brillouet's horse was thrown into a ditch,
and remained there without moving for three-quarters
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 139
of an hour, after which he was able to get up. Later
on he became very feeble in the legs.
Very often the same stroke kills men and animals
simultaneously. We have already given several cases
of this kind. Here are some more
A terrible storm burst at La Salvetat, on August
26, 1900. A shepherd and his flock, composed of
twenty-three sheep, were all killed by lightning.
On June 23, 1887, a young boy, fifteen years of
age, living at Montagnat (Ain), was struck while fasten-
ing oxen to the door of a stable ; an ox was also killed.
At Lagrauliere (Correze), on August 15, 1862,
three girls were looking after their flocks. A violent
storm burst at about five o'clock, and the thunder
growled terribly. The shepherdesses, taken by surprise,
had no time to take their flocks in. The two first took
shelter under a big chestnut, the third under an oak
twenty-five yards away from them. Suddenly lightning
struck the chestnut and enveloped the two little
refugees. They fell dead. The third fainted, half
asphyxiated by the smell of the sulphur. The clothes
of the two unfortunate girls who had been struck
were burnt, their sabots were broken. Near them
there were five sheep, a pig, and a she-ass, which had
also been killed by the fluid. The shepherdess's dog
had been cut in two.
Sometimes, also, the clap of thunder, when striking
140 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
men and animals, proves more murderous for the latter
than the former, who, however, have sometimes
A diligence was slowly mounting an incline, when
suddenly a stroke of lightning interrupted its ascent.
An electric ball burst over the heads of the horses, and
threw the whole five down, stone dead. The postillion
was struck, but not one other person was touched,
though the carriage was full of women and children.
There is one peculiarity about this incident which
ought to attract our attention the terrible meteor was
not accompanied by any emission of light, nor followed
by any reverberation of sound.
In June, 1872, at about two in the afternoon, a
farmer at Grange-Forestiere was trying a couple of
oxen, which he had just bought at the fair, in a field.
Lightning knocked over the man and the animals.
Some hours after, the poor farmer was picked up in a
pitiable plight. His hair was burnt in parts, also hair
on his chest, he was quite deaf, and in a state of absolute
prostration. His trousers were unsewn from top to
bottom in all four stitchings, his hat was riddled with
holes, and his shoes torn off. All the same, he survived
the accident. The oxen were killed on the spot.
In fact, as we have already said, when the spark
strikes men and animals at the same time, only the
former can resist the shock.
In June, 1855, thunder burst over a flock of sheep
in the Commune of Saint-Leger-la-Montagne (Haute
Vienne) ; seventy-eight sheep and two watch-dogs were
killed on the spot. A woman who was looking after
the flock was slightly touched.
On September 26, 1820, lightning struck a labourer
who was driving near Sainte Menehould. His two horses
were killed ; the man escaped with a temporary
In August, 1852, two out of four oxen were killed,
the third was paralyzed on the left side. As to
the farmer, he came off with a numbness of the left
Very often a man feels nothing, not even a shock,
while the animals beside him fall dead.
Here are some facts
On February 2, 1859, a herd of pigs were surprised
by a water- spout near Liege. One hundred and fifty
of these animals perished by the action of the electric
fluid, their guides felt nothing.
In 1715, lightning fell on the Abbey of Noirmou-
tiers, near Tours, and killed twenty-two horses without
doing any harm to 150 monks, whose refectory it visited
and upset the 150 bottles containing their ration of
In the year IX., lightning killed a horse and a mule
near Chartres, sparing the miller who conducted them.
142 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
On July 17, 1895, four cows were going along a
road, when suddenly they were pushed and thrown
roughly to the edge of the road. The old drover who
was with them felt nothing except the sensation of
a strong and very characteristic odour which he could
In 1812, a fulgurant discharge took place near Mr.
Cowen's and killed his dog beside him, without doing
him any harm.
In August, 1900, lightning penetrated into a cart-
shed, where twelve chickens were taking shelter. The
poor things were killed, but a lady who was feeding
them was unhurt.
One often asks if lightning strikes birds in flight.
This question, so often put, would seem to find an
answer in the following facts :
A lady was looking out of her window, when there
was a flash of lightning, accompanied by a great clap
of thunder. At the same time she noticed on the
grass a dead gull which she had not seen before. The
people who picked up the bird, affirmed that they
found it still hot, and they added that there was a
strong smell of sulphur.
Examples of this kind are rare : we have two more
One day, Mr. W. Murdochs with two friends was
looking on at a very violent storm, which spread
itself over the Valley of the Ayr. Just then his dog
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 143
dislodged a flock of ducks which had been sheltered
behind an old building. One of the birds began to
fly, and as it was cutting through the air, it was
struck by lightning and killed as though by a gun.
During a storm in the United States, Mr. Burch
saw a flock of wild geese flying by. Suddenly there was
a flash of lightning which threw the flock into disorder ;
six birds fell dead to the ground.
One would have thought that the absence of all
communication with the ground ought to protect the
graceful winged tribe from lightning ; but no, the poor
birds have received no mercy from this terrible adversary.
All the same, lightning is less redoubtable for them
than the sportsman's gun. It is very seldom that the
kings of the air are the victims of the fire of Heaven,
but they have another enemy, barbarous, unpardonable
Man. Yes, the little earthly Jupiters are infinitely
more terrible for the bird-world than the giant of the
gods. They are rarely softened by the seductive grace,
the elegance, and the delightful twittering of the charm-
ing inhabitants of space.
In truth, one of the reasons why birds are so rarely
struck in their flight is that they foresee the storm,
and have the prudence to take shelter before it bursts.
Amongst birds, sparrows are those which suffer
most from the electric fluid.
We sometimes find them hanging by their shrivelled
144 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
claws from telegraph wires or from the branches of
trees. But this latter is rather rare. They generally
nest high in the trees, and lightning affects the branches
much less than the trunk.
We also hear of little caged birds being killed in
their iron prison. One day a canary was in a cage with
five others and was killed ; the rest were unhurt. The
spark was attracted by the metallic bars, and struck the
canary, which was no doubt resting on iron.
Fishes in their dark dwellings are no more privi-
leged than other animals. They also frequently receive
visits from the lightning, and their sad fate has often
proved how dangerous it is to remain near a pool or
pond during thunder.
Moreover, why are we recommended always to put
the conductor into a well, damp earth, or even into
a small pond ? It is because water conducts the electric
We can understand that a vast space of liquid
would be a good refuge for lightning, when, after
having made several victims on earth, and fearing the
vengeance of the conductors, it hurls itself into the
More often it drowns itself, and in this it follows
the example of the immortal Gribouille; but enough of
that. The logic of lightning is still contestable.
However that may be, many examples show us the
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 145
dangers to which the denizens of rivers, and of the
liquid element generally, are exposed. Not only are
fishermen and sailors unanimous in attesting to the
ravages wrought by lightning, but the history of
electricity has preserved the recollection of memorable
disasters, of veritable hecatombs of fish, which they
attribute to the fire of heaven.
. Arago recounts that on September 17, 1772, light-
ning fell on the Doubs and killed all the pike and trout
which were in the river. The water was soon covered
with their corpses which floated, stomach upwards.
A century before, during the year 1672, the lake in
the subterranean part of Zirknitz was the theatre of a
similar event, even more terrible, on account of the
number of victims. The inhabitants of the neighbour-
hood collected such a number of fish that were struck,
that they were able to fill eighteen carts.
In 1879, during a violent storm at night, the
electric discharge fell on a little fish-pond in which a
number of fish sported. The next morning they were all
found floating dead on the surface of the water. They
had the appearance of boiled fish, and their flesh fell
to pieces on being touched, just as it would if it had
been cooked. There was no injury to be seen, external
or internal. The scales and the swimming bladder,
which was full of air, had been preserved. The water
of the pond remained troubled and muddy the day
146 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
after the storm, as though the agitation of the tempest
had been quite recent.
Here is an observation, similar to the last :
In 1894, lightning fell on two poplars near
Ignon, in the territory of Saulx-le-Duc (Cote-d'Or).
A neighbouring pond, which measured 10 yards in
length by 5 in width, was also struck. The owner
states that all the fish, to the number of about a
thousand, were killed.
Another more curious case still :
One day the fish in an aquarium placed in a
drawing-room were struck. They were all found lying
dead on the floor. The glass which formed the bottom
of the vessel was twisted and coated with a thick bed
of yellowish substance.
If we study the effects of lightning on animals from
the point of view of the injuries which it produces, we
can make some very interesting remarks.
More often the hair of animals is injured or
burnt. Sometimes the spark acts on the skin over a
large surface of the body of the animal. Thus, two
horses had their hair singed nearly all over their bodies,
and more particularly on the leg and under the stomach.
At other times the hair is only burnt in certain places.
Lightning struck a young four-year-old ox which
was red with white spots. It burnt and removed all
the white spots and left the red hair.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 147
But generally we find one or more furrows of
different kinds. The skin is seldom intact under
injured hair. It is nearly always more or less burnt.
And one often notices extravasations of blood which
correspond to the injuries of the epidermis, in the
subcutaneous cellular tissue.
In some cases, the fulminant fluid only attacks the
colour of the hair of the animal.
The fracture of the bones or the ablation of a limb
is often observed on animals which have been struck.
In 1838, a violent storm broke near Nimegue, and
several pxen were killed in the meadows and their bones
In the month of May, 1718, in the Marche de
Priegnitz, eight sheep were struck. They could not be
used as food, because all their bones had been broken
as though in a mortar, and the fragments were inter-
mingled in the flesh. These, however, remained
We have seen in the preceding chapter that ful-
guration often leaves no particular sign on men who
are struck. It is the same with animals. The electric
fluid entirely absorbs the source of life and only leaves
insignificant traces of its passage. Sometimes even we
can find no exterior injury.
On July 7, 1779, near Hamburg, lightning killed
two horses in their stable. They showed no exterior
148 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
trace of a burn, though both had a rupture of the
In the month of September, 1787, at Ogenne, two
cows and a heifer were struck in their stable; no exterior
wound was to be found on their bodies.
Another observation is given by the Abbe Chapsal
in his remarkable description of the effects of lightning.
A pig fell dead, struck by a clap of thunder, and no
indication could be found of the electric passage.
We see that lightning does not always make a great
distinction between the blows which it inflicts on men
and those which it inflicts on animals.
Sometimes, also, the corpses of beasts which are
struck are completely incinerated. At the first sight,
the body appears intact, but when you touch it, it falls
At Clermont (Oise) on June 2, 1908, several animals
were entirely carbonized in their stable.
We have also heard of animals being transported
by the meteor a long way from the place of the
catastrophe. Others have suffered from grave nervous
troubles, following on the strokes of lightning which
they have received. Sometimes partial or total paralysis
results. Thus, a cow which had been struck by lightning,
was knocked over, and remained a quarter of an hour
motionless, after which it was seized with violent con-
vulsions, then it got up quickly looking terrified.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 149
Here is a case of a severe shock which brought on
an access of delirium.
In the course of a terrible storm on September 4,
1849, a butcher, accompanied by a dog, took refuge
under a beech at the edge of the road. Suddenly
lightning fell on the tree and struck the dog, which
became mad, and threw itself on its master, bit him in
the thigh, and only let go when the butcher dragged
the animal with him into a neighbouring house and
cut his tail. The dog died in the night.
There are some examples of injuries wrought on
animals which are barely perceptible. For instance,
when it makes a transparent horn, opaque, and when
it burns the mucous membrane of the nose.
On the other hand, the foetus which sleeps under
the frail covering of the egg, is exposed to the pitiless
blows of the most terrible meteor, as is the baby in its
mother's womb. Chickens have often been struck
before they ever saw the light of day.
Often the noise of thunder, and the fear which
results from it, causes the miscarriage of hinds, and
particularly of lambs.
An animal which has been struck generally sinks
instantly, without a struggle. All the same, we hear
of the case of a horse which was struck by the flame,
and which struggled for a long time against an
150 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
The corpses of animals, like those of men, are
sometimes very rigid; at others they are soft and
flaccid, and decompose rapidly.
Thus all the sheep of a flock which were together
under a tree in Scotland, were killed by a great clap
of thunder. The next morning the owner, wishing
to get some advantage out of their remains, sent his
men to skin them, but the bodies were already in such
a state of decomposition, and the stench was so
abominable, that it was impossible for the servants to
execute his orders. They hurried to bury the sheep
in their skins.
On September 10, 1845, at about 2 p.m., lightning
fell on a house in the village of Salagnac (Creuse).
Amongst other accidents it killed a pig in a stable ;
three hours after the body was completely decomposed.
When animals are killed, not by the atmospheric
fluid, but by the lightning of our machines, decom-
position always comes on very rapidly.
Brown Sequard made the following very curious
experiment on this subject :
He took the hearts away from five rabbits of the
same kind, the same age, and about the same strength.
He put one aside without touching it, and he submitted
the four others to the passage of an electric current,
of a different strength for each animal. Here are the
different results obtained
The first animal became rigid after ten hours, and
its rigidity, which was excessively marked, lasted eight
days. The rigidity of the four others was feebler, and
lasted a shorter time in proportion to the strength of
the electric current. Thus, the one which received the
weakest current, became rigid at the end of seven
hours, and this lasted six days. The one which
received the strongest current became rigid in seven
minutes, and its body softened after a quarter of an
This experiment explains the absence, or the short-
ness in duration, of corpselike stiffness in subjects
which have been subjected to the terrible discharge of
Animals are not only the frequent victims of
lightning, but, as this experiment shows, they are still
oftener the martyrs of science. Laboratories are
sometimes transformed into small cemeteries, where lie
poor guineapigs, frogs which have been quartered, and
mutilated rabbits. But what is the ordinary lot of
these last when science spares them ? The chief point
is not to let the innocent victims suffer.
Can we eat with impunity the flesh of animals which
have been struck ? Several people say Yes, many say
No. Both are right.
Putting aside the question of the rapid putrefaction
to which these bodies are nearly always subjected, the
152 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
flesh of animals killed by fulguration has often been
found unhealthy and uneatable.
A veterinary surgeon who was commissioned to
examine the bodies of two cows and an ox which had
been struck in a stable, declared that their flesh could
not be eaten without danger.
On the other hand, Franklin recounts how some
people ate fowls which had been killed by the electric
spark " this funny little lightning " and cooked im-
mediately after death. The flesh of these capons was
excellent and particularly tender, and the illustrious
inventor of lightning-conductors concluded by pro-
posing that we should follow this proceeding in order
to ensure our fresh meat being as clean as possible when
served at table.
We think, however, that it is more prudent to
sacrifice the meat which has been struck, as it has
been proved that in certain cases the decomposition is
Up to now we have seen all animals, man included,
as victims of lightning : it is the general rule.
Nevertheless, we often meet beings in this world,
men, animals, or plants, which try to distinguish them-
selves from others by some sort of originality. This
appears to be the case with the electric fish, whose
existence seems to be dedicated to the worship of
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON ANIMALS 153
These curious fish have received the gift from
Nature of being able to hurl lightning to a certain
This is how they set to work. A little fish in
search of food goes too near this terrible enemy, who
at once sets his living tail in motion. Fascinating it
with his eye, he renders it immovable, and lets fly
repeated discharges to it. After a minute, the poor
fish is overcome, and allows itself to be snapped up by
its pitiless adversary without resistance.
Certain rivers in Asia and Africa and the depths
of the Pacific Ocean, in which these curious animals
live, are often the scenes of terrible dramas, caused by
the presence of these lightning fish, which are divided
into five species: the tetrodon, the trichiure, the
silurus, the raie torpille (cramp-fish), and the gymnote
(electric eel). These aquatic lightnings work terrible
havoc among the inhabitants of Neptune's kingdom.
They use their influence over men as well as fish.
If you touch a torpille, you feel a shock strong
enough to benumb and paralyze the arm for some
A curious experiment was tried : eight people
formed a chain, and one of them, with a piece of metallic
wire, touched the back of a torpille which had been
imported. They all felt the shock.
If thunder had elected to be domiciled anywhere
154 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
but in its own clouds, it would seem as if it would be
in the organism of these curious fish.
Unfortunately, in our international relations,
humanity has invented a much more dangerous
torpille (torpedo) !
THE EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES AND PLANTS
NEARLY two thousand years ago, Pliny wrote, " As
regards products of the earth, lightning never strikes
the bay tree." And this is why the Roman emperors,
in fear always of the fire of heaven, crowned themselves
with laurels. This belief was almost universal in ancient
times, and survived for many centuries.
But every new century has proclaimed the immunity
from lightning of some one member of the vegetable
world, though impartial research has now established
the fact that there is no such absolute privilege. If
certain trees are rarely struck, that is, perhaps, due
less to its species than to its size, its hygrometrical
condition, and to other influences which it is still
difficult to specify ; for lightning, as we have seen, has
capricious habits which we have not yet succeeded in
Thus the bay tree has lost its proud position in this
respect, and has had to take its place amongst the
ordinary run of trees, subject to the unjust anger of
156 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Jupiter. Many bay trees of some size have been seen
to fall victims to the electric fluid.
The fig tree, the mulberry tree, and the peach tree
have also been reputed to enjoy safety, but this also is
not the case. There is an instance on record of a fig
tree being struck by lightning and completely withered,
and another of a mulberry-tree, eighty years old, being
In our own days, the beech is believed to go un-
inj ured. In the State of Tennessee, in the United States,
the opinion is so deeply rooted that beech tree planta-
tions are often resorted to as a refuge in times of storm.
But it would be a mistake to place too much trust in
them. There are records of beech trees being struck by
lightning and destroyed, just like bay trees, fig trees,
and the rest.
In 1835, an old beech tree was struck in the forest
of Villers-Cotterets. This venerable patriarch was more
than three hundred years old. Of its upper branches,
which were wide and strong, four of the finest were
destroyed ; a fifth, stripped of its bark to a great extent,
was not torn off the trunk. The trunk was split where
the other four branches were torn from it. The interior
of it was blackened and slightly carbonized.
On July 15, 1868, at Chefresne, canton de Percy
(Manche), an oak and an ash were struck by lightning
within five minutes of each other.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 157
On August 10, 1886, at Haute-Croix, in Brabant,
an ash was struck and destroyed. On August 23, in
the same year, an ash was struck also at Namur.
The box tree and the Virginian creeper used to be
regarded as safeguards against lightning. The same
virtue was attributed to the house-leek, a thick herba-
ceous plant, which grows usually upon walls and roofs,
and which the Germans call Donnerblatt or Donner-
barb, Thunder-leaf or Thunder-beard.
According to some authors, again, lightning never
strikes resinous trees, such as pines or firs. But this
also is disproved by the facts, especially in regard to
Among the many particulars I have collected of
recent years, is the following list of sixty-five different
kinds of trees, with the record of the number of times
each species has been struck by lightning within a given
54 oaks. 2 lime trees.
24 poplars. 2 apple trees.
14 elms. 1 mountain ash.
11 walnut trees. 1 mulberry tree.
10 firs. 1 alder.
7 willows. 1 laburnum.
6 pine trees. 1 acacia.
6 ash trees. 1 pseudo-acacia.
6 beech trees. 1 fig tree.
158 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
4 pear trees. 1 orange tree.
4 cherry trees. 1 olive tree.
4 chestnut trees. birch.
3 catalpas. maple.
Height obviously accounts for a good deal. It is
incontestable that, in the case of a clump of trees
standing in the middle of a plain, lightning will in
most cases pick out the tallest. But this is not an
absolute rule. The isolation of trees, their qualities as
conductors, the degree of moisture in the soil in which
they are rooted, their distance from the storm clouds,
the character of their foliage and of their roots all
these things are important factors.
Numerous experiments have been made with a view
to ascertaining the amount of resistance offered to the
electric spark by different kinds of wood. Similar
pieces of beech and oak have been exposed lengthwise
to the electric spark given out by one of Holtz's
machines, with the result that the oak wood was pierced
by the electric fluid after one or two revolutions of the
machine, whereas for the beech wood a dozen or twenty
were needed. Black poplar wood and willow offer a
moderate resistance : a few revolutions suffice to pene-
In all instances the susceptibility of the wood
depends on the sap. It has been proved by analysis
that the woods which contain starch with but little oil,
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 159
such as the oak, poplar, willow, maple, elm, and ash,
offer much less resistance to the electric current than
those trees which are richer in fatty matter, as the
beech tree, walnut tree, lime tree, birch tree, and so on.
These conclusions are corroborated by the case of
the pine tree, the wood of which has a great quantity
of oil in winter, but in summer lacks it as much as
those trees which contain more starch.
Experiments have proved that in summer this
wood is quite as likely to serve as a conductor as the
oak ; while in winter its resistance to the electric spark
equals that of the beech and other trees which are
rarely struck by lightning. Decayed trees are excellent
conductors of electricity; those in full vigour being
much more rarely struck.
In any case, it has been proved that the effects of
lightning are particularly severe in the vegetable world.
It has been pointed out elsewhere in this little book
to what dangers those persons are exposed who take
shelter beneath the trees during a thunderstorm ; there
are innumerable examples of the imprudence of taking
refuge from the rain under thick foliage, people having
been killed by a fireball for lightning does not always
take the trouble to make a selection, sparing neither
the protector nor the protected.
We shall give some more instances, chosen from a
considerable number of similar observations.
160 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
In 1888, ten reapers, surprised by drops of rain
and distant rumbling of thunder, left their work and
took refuge beneath a big walnut tree. But one of
them having questioned the security of this retreat,
all immediately fled in the direction of a neighbouring
wood, except one young girl of fourteen years. Several
who returned to advise her to- follow them, saw her
smilingly throw her arms round the trunk of the tree,
and almost at once fall backwards, her arms extended.
She was dead.
On the 22nd of August in the same year, four
labourers, returning from work, were overtaken by a
thunderstorm. Three of them stopped under an elm,
the fourth prudently continued on his way. Well it
was for him. Several minutes later, the lightning
struck the tree, killing two of the labourers outright,
and grievously wounding the third. The latter was
found almost completely naked ; his garments, burnt
and tattered, were scattered round him. When he
came to himself, he was in such a violent delirium that
it was necessary for several men to bring the unfortunate
victim to his home, where he died shortly afterwards
in the most horrible agony.
About six o'clock, on the 23rd of June, seven men
employed on the farm of Puy-Crouel, were working in
a field of beet-root. Overcome with the heat, they
went into the shade of a walnut tree. All at once,
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 161
a flash of lightning illumined the sky ; the seven
workmen were thrown down, one of them being hurled
several yards away. Three of them were able to get
up and go to the farm, the others were severely burnt,
and half asphyxiated. One of the victims had his
back skinned the whole length of the vertebral column ;
the other had his face scratched, as if torn by finger-
nails. All had lost their memory. The walnut tree
under which they had sheltered was cleft from top to
Here is another example no less terrible
Seven children, belonging to Ahrens, were caught
in a thunderstorm as they were coming home from the
fields, and took shelter under a tree. The lightning
killed the seven little people.
Another time, four young men taking refuge under
an oak, were struck and thrown down. One of them
was killed instantly, his companions were cruelly
On the 10th of July, in Belgium, a woman gather-
ing cherries was killed on a tree which attracted the
fluid. A young man standing beneath it was paralyzed.
We might multiply these tragic tales ; each year
a number of similar cases happen. The imprudence
of human beings is truly incorrigible !
Everybody, however feeble his instinct of self-
preservation, should flee the vicinity of trees during
162 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
a thunderstorm, and allow himself to be drenched on
the road, rather than offer his life as a too generous
burnt-offering to the lightning, for the oak's robust
trunk, or that of the poplar, elegantly plumed with
its graceful foliage, may be the altar on which the
sacrifices in honour of Jupiter are made.
The wood of trees is not so good a conductor of
electricity as the human body. For this reason, a
person leaning against a tree receives the full discharge ;
at times the tree is splintered, because it did not serve
as a perfect conductor.
Yet the conductive power of certain species is so
remarkable, that the neighbourhood of particular trees
may be regarded as a protection against lightning (this,
however, without coming in contact with them !).
The tips of the branches pointing towards the
clouds, and the moisture they receive, undoubtedly
influence the electricity of the atmosphere ; and, more-
over, by means of these graceful branches, an inaudible
but continual exchange is effected between the electricity
of the earth and sky, thus holding the balance between
two opposite charges.
Colladon asserts that poplars planted near houses
may, in favourable conditions, act as lightning con-
ductors, on account of their height and powers of
conducting. He adds that it is necessary to take
other circumstances regarding the situation of the
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 163
dwelling into account, which are not always easy to
define. Their protection of the neighbourhood is not
constantly the same. For it to be effectual, the
foliage should be very low, and they should be at
least two metres distant from the roof and walls.
Their roots, too, should be in a damp soil, and metal
should not enter largely into the construction of the
neighbouring houses. In these conditions, poplars may
fulfil the useful functions of lightning conductors.
At times, during a storm, several trees are struck
by the same flash. For instance, on May 23, 1886,
in Belgium, three poplars were blasted by a single
On the other hand, trees planted in lines are some-
times struck alternately. A case occurred where the
lightning seemed to have taken aim and touched all the
odd numbers in a row without striking the others.
Certain plantations act on the fluid with an extra-
At Lovenjoul, in Belgium, a wood of undergrowth
and big trees, planted in marshy ground, seems to
possess this singular privilege, and the agriculturists of
the country declare that no storm ever passes their way
without lightning falling there. In the middle of this
wood one can count seven oaks, near to one another,
struck by it. Not far off, a huge ash, and a little
farther away two poplars, likewise blasted.
164 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
All the trees have not been struck in the same way ;
some are scorched or stripped of their leaves; the
others have their trunks perforated, or split in different
parts. Usually trees are cleft from top to bottom ; in
some cases the furrow is horizontal or perpendicular in
the direction of the branches.
Pieces of bark or of wood are sometimes torn off
lengthwise, and only adhere to the trunk in strips here
and there. But that does not prove conclusively that
the lightning struck upwards from the ground ; it may
have rebounded (?) after striking from above.
Certain effects, however, can only be explained by
an ascending movement of the fluid. The following
cases for example :
"During the summer of 1787, two men were
sheltering under a tree at Tancon, Beaujolais, when
they were struck by lightning. One of them was
killed on the spot, the other felt no ill effects other
than momentary suffocation. Their horses were caught
up to the top of the tree. An iron ring which bound
the wooden shoe belonging to one of the men, was found
hanging from a high branch of the same tree. Now,
at a little distance, there was a tree which had also
suffered greatly by the passage of the electric fluid.
In the soil at its base a round hole was to be seen,
shaped like a funnel. Directly above it the bark had
been loosened and slit into slender thongs. As for the
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 165
tree beneath which the men had sheltered, it also had
half its bark off, and long splinters were to be seen
hanging only by the upper parts. On one side of the
tree the leaves were withered, on the other they were
still quite green.""
In this most remarkable instance the lightning had
come out of the ground.
In the cleft of a willow tree blasted by lightning
its roots were found.
Besides, the soil is often undulating, and thrown up
around trees which have been struck.
Vegetables do not always succumb, any more than
men, to these attacks. They may be lightly struck in
a vital part, in which case they recover from their
wounds. Very often they are merely stripped of their
natural garments, in other words, of their bark and
foliage. This is one of those superficial injuries to
which they are most subject.
The following is an example of this kind of
On July 16, 1708, two oaks were struck at
Brampton. The larger measured about ten feet around
the base. They were both split asunder, and the bark
peeled off from the summit to the soil, a length of
twenty-eight feet. Completely detached from the
trunk, it hung in long strips from the top.
Boussingault witnessed the destruction by lightning
166 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
of a wild pear tree at Lamperlasch, near Beekelleronn.
At the moment of the explosion an enormous column
of vapour arose, like smoke coming out of a chimney
when fresh coal has been put on the fire. The light-
ning flashed in all directions, great branches gave way,
and when the vapour cleared off, there stood the pear
tree, its trunk a dazzling white: the lightning had
taken the bark completely off. Sometimes the bark is
only partially stripped off one side, or left on, in more
or less regular bands, either on the trunk or on the
During a violent storm at Juvisy, on May 18, 1897,
an elm five hundred metres distant from the Observa-
tory was struck by lightning, which took the bark off
lengthwise in a strip, four centimetres wide and five
centimetres deep. This band of bark was cut clean off.
There was no trace of burning.
Sometimes only the mosses and lichens are whisked
off the sides of the trees, which escape with light
scratches. Two great oaks which had been struck by
fireballs, only bore traces of two punctures which might
have been made by small shot.
Moreover, it is not uncommon to see the bark
riddled with a multitude of little holes, like those
made by worms.
Two men were struck by lightning near Casal
Maggiore on August 15, 1791, beneath an elm tree.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 167
One of them had his elbow on the tree at the moment,
and amongst other injuries were a number of little
holes in the arm. There was a twist in the tree at the
part where the elbow rested, and a hole penetrated the
centre of it to the core of the wood. The surrounding
bark looked as if it had been mite-eaten. Several
scars started from this point and ascended almost
perpendicularly towards the top of the trunk. There
was no damage done to the branches.
Lightning cut through a chestnut tree, five metres
high, on the roadside at Foulain (Haute-Marne),
burning several leaves, then struck some water-pipes at
a depth of a metre and a half, and finally passed into
the dike through two holes a metre deep by a
decimetre in diameter.
The bark is often reduced to thin splinters scattered
on the soil, or hanging from the neighbouring trees,
or even thrown to a considerable distance.
On June 25, a fireball fell near Jare (Landes)
on a pine tree, which it shivered into a myriad slender
strips, about 2 metres long, many of which were
caught on the branches of pines within a distance of
15 metres. Only a stump, 2 metres in height, re-
mained standing. At the same time three other pines,
which stood 18 and 25 metres away from the first, were
destroyed. The bark had been stripped off each, but
only as far as the incision made for extracting the resin.
168 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Furrows, of varying width, and running in different
directions, may at times be seen on trees, some short,
others reaching to the top of the tree, and occasionally
to the roots. These marks show the passing of the
Sir John Clark has seen a huge oak in Cumberland,
at least 60 feet high and 4s feet in diameter, from
which the lightning had stripped a piece of bark, about
10 centimetres wide and 5 centimetres thick, the whole
length of the trunk in a straight line.
The furrow is not always single, it may be double,
and either stretch in two parallel lines or diverge.
The Chevalier de Louville observed in the park of
the castle at Nevers, a tree struck at the top of the
trunk by lightning which, dividing in three shafts,
hollowed three furrows that might have been made by
three rifle shots fired towards the roots. These three
furrows followed the irregularities of the trunk, always
slipping, gliding between the wood and the bark, and
curiously enough the former was not burnt.
But these bands are not invariably straight either ;
in the above example they followed the caprices of the
vegetable body. They are to be found oblique in
certain cases, but more often they surround the trunk
in long spirals of varying width, showing that the
lightning clasped the tree in the form of a serpent
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 169
Here is an example :
During a violent storm on July 17, 1895, a poplar
was blasted on the road through the forest of Moladier,
160 metres north-west of the castle of Valliere. The
tree was 25 metres high, and in full leaf from base to
summit ; it was struck halfway up by the discharge,
and a spiral furrow 10 centimetres wide twisted round
the trunk to the ground.
I noted a similar case, August 25, 1901.
Lightning struck one of the highest trees in the
park at Juvisy, a magnificent ash, stripping off and
destroying the bark where the electric fluid curved
round and round down the full length of the trunk,
which was shattered by the meteor a few metres above
the roots. Enormous fragments lay all round the
trunk, some hurled to such a distance that it was
obvious the explosive force of the phenomenon must
have been of extraordinary violence.
I was able to trace the course of the lightning to
the foot of the tree, along its roots to a great depth,
by a black furrow.
The tree is not dead. The ivy which clung to it is
The vast and splendid forest of Saint Germain
often witnesses the presence of the lightning, and
the magnificent trees which adorn and beautify this
charming and celebrated place are, unfortunately,
170 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
too often the victims of these inopportune visita-
Lightning has no respect for old memories. It
demolished with a single flash a superb giant whose
long branches, laden with perfumed leaves, had given
shade to many generations. The splendid tree, which
had survived the severity of several centuries, fell
beneath the arrow of the pernicious fluid. Such was
the fate of an oak near TEtoile du Grand- Veneur.
Struck on the top, its upper branches were violently
torn off. ... A spiral furrow beginning at the top
ended within a metre of the ground. But, wonderful
to relate, the whole mass of the tree appeared to have
been twisted mightily by a force which worked with
so much power that the tree could never regain its
original position. The fibre, instead of growing verti-
cally, followed the furrow made by the lightning, and
became twisted like a corkscrew. There exist certain
singular trees, the fibre of which grows in spiral
fashion, and is called twisted wood by carpenters
and cabinet-makers. Pines and firs in mountainous
countries are fairly often affected in this curious
fashion. One can no more account for it than one
can define the cause of the curved form of some flashes
of lightning. One does not know exactly if they
should be attributed to their following the direction
taken by the fibre, or whether, on the contrary, the
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 171
tree had been struck in its infancy by a spiral flash,
and, submitting to that influence, continued to grow
up corkscrew fashion.
It is most probable that the fall of the thunder-
ball on the trees in this manner is governed by the laws
of electricity. We may even note casually that traces
of similar spirals have been remarked on objects as well
as on the dead bodies of those struck by lightning, thus
preserving the ceraunic likeness of the mortal blow.
Other observers, besides, have declared that they
saw distinctly the spiral lightning flash through the
atmosphere. But these observations would need to be
confirmed by photographs of indisputable accuracy.
In these circumstances, as in many others, the dark
room is worth a hundred human eyes !
In some cases the curved furrow turns several times.
For instance, in May, 1850, Grebel saw an alder nearly
twenty metres high struck by lightning on the right
bank of the Elster below Zeitz. On the lower part of
its trunk were two spiral bands which had carried away
bark and sap-wood, leaving no trace of combustion.
The depth and width of the twist are very variable ;
at times the furrow is deeper in the veined parts than
at the edges ; again it reaches the core.
Two oaks were struck in June, 1742, in the park at
Thornden. One was marked with a spiral for a length
of forty feet to within a little distance of the ground.
172 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
The band was five inches wide, but became narrower as
it descended, and was finally no more than two inches
wide. The wood was incised and even torn in places,
but the branches were not hurt. The rest of the bark
seemed to have been riddled by small shot.
All the injuries of which we have spoken (ex-
coriation, stripping off the bark, furrows), are not
necessarily mortal. But there are other more serious
wounds from which the tree rarely recovers. We
allude to deep fissures and breaks produced by
lightning. When the fracture touches only a portion
of the topmost part of the tree, the result of the acci-
dent is not necessarily fatal. But this is not always so.
On May 14, 1865, a poplar was split in two by
lightning at Montigny-sur-Loing. One half to the
full height continued standing. The other half was
chopped up in small fragments and thrown to a
distance of a hundred metres. These pieces, which
were brought to me by M. Fouche, are so dried up
and fibrous that they might be taken for hemp instead
In the majority of these cases the tree is split from
top to bottom.
On July 5, 1884, in Belgium, a poplar, the
biggest of a group of trees of the same species, was
struck and split down its full length.
In the month of August, 1853, on the side of the
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 178
road from Ville-cTAvray to Versailles, a poplar of about
twenty years old was cleft from the topmost bough to
its roots ; one half remained in its place, the other fell
on the road. A black line, about a millimetre wide,
ran down the centre of the tree.
Sometimes the tree is divided into several parts by
vertical fissures. For example, in 1827, near Vicence,
a pear tree, three feet in diameter, was split into four
parts, from the top down.
How often one has remarked great tree trunks in
the forests, decayed and desolate, standing sadly, like
poor headless bodies ? Very often lightning has been
the executioner of these trees.
In the month of May, 1867, in the forest of Fon-
tainebleau, a magnificent oak, about two metres in
circumference, was completely decapitated by lightning ;
its branches fell on the ground. The part of the
trunk left standing was barked to the roots and
splintered into fragments of varying sizes. They
were scattered on the ground or hung from the
branches of the surrounding trees. Several pieces of
considerable size were hurled more than thirty metres
away, much to the injury of the bark of the trees
which they struck.
In numerous cases, the tree struck by lightning is
broken in several places, and fragments of it thrown
far and wide.
174 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
On July 2, 1871, at the farm of Etiefs, near
Rouvres, canton of Auberive (Haute-Marne), lightning
struck an Italian poplar, sixty years old, thirty
metres high, and three metres round at a height
of one metre from the ground, splintering off enough
wood to make a heap sixty-five centimetres round, and
fifty centimetres high.
An ash was struck by lightning on July 17,
1895, on the road to Clermont. This tree, ten
metres high, was broken at a point 85 metres from
the ground, and the crown, still hanging by a shred
from the trunk, lay on the embankment. The violence
of the explosion threw pieces thirty centimetres wide
and 3 metres in length, into a field from twenty-
five to thirty metres off.
On July 4, 1884, in Belgium, a willow was
reduced to a heap of atoms on the ground. In March,
1818, at Plymouth, a fir more than a hundred feet
high and forty feet in circumference, the admiration
of the countryside, disappeared, literally shattered into
bits. Some fragments were thrown two hundred and
fifty metres away.
One of the most curious effects of lightning is to
divide the interior of the tree into concentric layers,
fitting them perfectly one into the other, but at the
same time separating them with extraordinary pre-
Arbres roules (thus are the trees called which are
victims of this odd phenomenon), as a rule, do not
show any injury on the outside. But the body,
dissected by the electric fluid, soon succumbs.
An oak, twenty-five metres high, having been
struck on August 25, 1818, was opened to be
examined carefully, and it was stated that the con-
centric layers were as detached from one another as the
tubes of an opera-glass.
The fireball sometimes hollows a canal through
the centre of the trees from the top to the bottom, the
sides of which are bunit black. The following is a
curious example :
In June, 1823, at Moisselles, lightning fell upon a
great elm, and striking against an enormous knob,
rebounded on to a neighbouring elm half its own
height, pierced it through and through, shivering it
to tatters; the trunk was burst open to the roots,
it looked as if it had been bored through from one end
to the other by a red-hot bullet that blackened and
Does it not seem as if the lightning plays with the
lives of the trees as with man ? It threatens, changes,
apparently spares, returns to the charge and finally
annihilates. And this sport is accompanied, at times,
by inconceivable effects.
But records are still more eloquent than reflections :
176 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Nature, in her own mute speech, tells us of a thousand
Is not the following phenomenon enough to make
lightning more mysterious in its fantastic and varied
mode of action ?
On the 19th of April, lightning struck an oak in
the forest of Vibraye (Sarthe), cut this tree, measuring
a metre and a half in circumference, at two-thirds of its
height, pulverized the lower parts, strewed the shreds
over a circuit of fifty metres, and planted the upper
part exactly on the spot from which the trunk had
been snatched, with all the rapidity of a flash.
Moreover, the annual concentric circles were
separated by the sudden drying up of the sap so
effectually, that, the strips only remained welded
together where the knots made too great an obstacle
to their separation.
How was the lightning able to plant in the earth,
with such inconceivable rapidity, the top of the tree
where the roots had been ? This is something which
no one can explain. It alone is capable of creating
But it has done better still ! Two years later, in
1868, it took the opportunity of playing a good trick
on two trees of different species, an English oak and a
forest pine, which, without race jealousy, fraternized in
the forest of Pont-de-Bussiere (Haute- Vienne). These
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 177
two trees were about ten yards apart, and were simul-
taneously hit by the explosive matter, and in the
twinkling of an eye, their leaves were changed. The
pine needles found themselves on the oak, and the
leaves of the oak went to brighten the austerity of the
pine with their delicate verdure. There was nothing
commonplace about the metamorphosis. Accordingly
all the inhabitants went in crowds to the scene of this
miracle to contemplate the unusual spectacle of a pine-
oak and an oak -pine.
And the unexpected happened : both trees appeared
to thrive very well in these new conditions : the pine
continued to be agreeably adorned with its festival
foliage, whilst the oak agreed perfectly with the sombre
needles of the pine.
After such marvels, my readers will not be surprised
to learn that lightning sometimes shatters the living
wood, or decayed wood, into a thousand morsels without
setting it on fire.
For instance, a bundle of faggots lying on the
hearth has been reduced to atoms by lightning, without
any trace of combustion being visible.
A fireball fell on a sheaf of barley in the open field
without setting it on fire, and buried itself in the ground
without doing other further damage.
In certain cases the electric fluid chars wood at
varying depths : the blackened layer is often very
178 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
slight ; sometimes, on the contrary, combustion is
As for the leaves, they are unhurt as a rule. When
they are attacked they shrivel up ; an autumnal shade
takes the place of their charming green tints ; they
turn brown and dry up quickly.
One of the trees in the Champs-Elysees having
been struck, it was proved that all round it the ground
was full of little holes. In two or three places the bark
was raised from beneath ; the leaves were yellow and
shrivelled up as parchment would be by the fire ; the
upper part remained green. Everything seemed to
prove that the lightning came out of the ground.
At other times the same effect may be observed on
the leaves, when the trunk and roots are apparently
uninjured. It is not unusual to see the tree instantly
stripped of its leaves as if by some mysterious power.
The lightning acts also on the roots, as we have
seen in the preceding examples. They have been seen
uncovered where the ground was much disturbed, torn
in strips, or cleft in more or less regular pieces.
We see that lightning does not make more ado
about exhaling its baleful breath on the life of plants,
than on animals and men. And moreover, that it often
strikes these latter with sudden death without leaving
a trace of its passing, just as sometimes it strikes the
trees without leaving any exterior injury. Now and
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 179
then life is not completely extinguished, and little by
little the tree recovers its health. Often the vitality
is not changed, one sees the tree which was struck bear
fruit as before the catastrophe.
Has it not been asserted that lightning may exert a
benign influence on vegetation ?
This Avas the opinion of the ancients.
A propos of this, Pliny said, "That thunder is
rarely heard in winter, and that the great fertility of
the soil is due to the frequency of thunder and rain in
spring ; for the countries where it rains often and in
good earnest during the spring, as in the island of
Sicily, produce many and excellent fruits."
It has been proved in our times that the ancients
were right in extolling rainwater as nourishment for
the products of the earth, and science has discovered
the cause to be the presence of great quantities of
nitrogen and ammonia in the thunder-rain and in hail.
Perhaps electricity has a similar effect.
In the neighbourhood of Castres, on April 13,
1781, an old poplar was stripped of its bark in several
places. Now, shortly afterwards it burst into leaf,
although the neighbouring poplars were much later
The ravages caused in the fields by the electric
meteor to forage and vegetables are sometimes con-
siderable. This is especially so with grass when cut,
180 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
to haycocks, ricks of straw, barley, etc. We have
a collection of records of men or animals who, when
leaning against haystacks, were struck.
As a rule the haystack is burnt ; sometimes, however,
the grass is simply scattered and thrown to a distance.
In 1888, a very curious occurrence was observed at
Vayres (Haute- Vienne).
The lightning struck a field of potatoes at the
village of Puytreuillard ; some of the stalks were burnt
to cinders ; but most remarkable of all, the potatoes
were done to a turn, just as if they had been cooked
beneath hot ashes.
A belief which was very general in ancient times
and derived without doubt from a recollection of the
circumstances which were said to accompany the birth
of Bacchus, gave the vine the privilege of protecting
the neighbourhood from the fatal effects of lightning.
But this again is only a legend. The following obser-
vation proves it :
On July 10, 1884, at Chanvres (Yonne), fifty vine-
stocks were frizzled up by lightning.
It used to be supposed, too, that the electric fluid
held the lily in particular respect. But here is a note
which shows us that the white flower is visited by the
burning flashes. During a violent thunder-storm on
June 25, 1881, at Montmorin (Haute-Garonne)
But let M. Larroque, who witnessed the curious
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 181
phenomenon, describe it : " In a clump of lilies in my
garden, 11 says he, " I see the highest of them surrounded
by a violet glimmer, which formed an aureola round
the corolla. This glimmer lasted for eight or ten
seconds. As soon as it disappeared, I went close to
the lily, which, to my great surprise, I found had been
deprived of its pollen, while the surrounding flowers
were laden with it. So the electric fluid must have
scattered or carried off the pollen. 11
When Jupiter thunders, he still seems to dominate
our world, as in the days when the graceful legends of
And not only does he work above ground, but,
contrary to the belief of the ancients, his influence
extends beneath the soil.
A great number of men were working in the mines
at Himmelsfurth on July 5, 1755. They were, as
often happens, working at various points along the
vein of metal, and never dreaming of the events which
might take place on the surface of the ground. All
at once they were conscious of several very violent
shocks, given in the oddest and most extravagant
fashion. Some felt the shock in their backs, while
their neighbours received them on their arms or legs.
They might have been shaken by a mysterious in-
visible hand, stretching now up from below, now from
above, now from the sides of the galleries. One of
182 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
the miners found himself hurled against the wall, two
others, whose backs were turned, almost came to blows,
each believing that his mate had thumped him.
The real culprit was the thunder, of whom they might
well demand an explanation of these strange proceedings.
Here is another example which bears out the fore-
On the 25th of May, the watchman on guard at
the pit mouth of one of the principal mines at Frey-
berg, perceived an electric glimmer run along the wire
rope going to the bottom of the mines, and used by
the miners to exchange signals with the men employed
in working the lifts. Suddenly all the pits were
brilliantly lit up. At the same moment the watchman
saw a clear vivid flame shoot out at the other end of
the chain. On this occasion the lightning behaved
with due discretion, and shone through the mine
without giving any one the slightest shock.
In vain the monster Tiberius, and the infamous
Caligula, sought a subterranean refuge from lightning.
Their impure consciences, laden with crimes, dreaded
the chastisement of heaven. By fleeing from the light-
ning flash, they believed themselves saved from death.
Lightning dogs our footsteps, and works even when
the criminals believe themselves in safety. It is con-
ceivable that the ancients should have dreaded it as an
instrument of celestial justice.
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 183
Usually lightning strikes the ground with a vertical
stroke, but at times obliquely, when it traces long,
horizontal lines. Often the ground may be seen turned
up at the foot of trees which have been struck, the
sod is torn, and stones thrown to a great distance.
Sometimes, too, an excavation may be seen in the
ground near the object struck, of varying breadth
and height. This opening may be like a funnel or
In a case observed on June 6, 1883, at Cote
(Haute-Saone), a circular hole, having a depth of 1 '20
metres, has been seen in a dyke on the declivity of the
road, below a coach which was not struck.
Occasionally the hole is but the beginning of a
canal, hollowed rather deeply and perpendicularly in
the ground, the sides of which serve as a sheath to
the fulgurite. But before treating of fulgurite tubes,
which constitute the most curious phenomena in the
world connected with lightning, we shall discuss certain
remarkable effects observed on the surface of the
Falling on solid rocks, the electric spark can break
them, cut them, or pierce them in one or more places.
Often instead of spoiling or cutting oft 1 pieces of the
stone, it covers the surface instantaneously with a
vitreous coat, having blisters of various colours. This
vitrification is often to be seen on mountains.
184 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
De Saussure found rocks of schistous amphiboles
covered with vitreous bubbles, like those seen on tiles
where struck by lightning. Humboldt made similar
observations on porphyritic rocks at Nevada de Toluca,
in Mexico, and Ramond, at the Sanadoire rock in
In these cases, the spark, on reaching the surface,
melts it more or less completely over a varying extent,
and this fusion, worked upon by an extraordinary heat,
produces a coat having a peculiar appearance, but in
which microscopical analysis finds the elements of the
body it covers.
Thus the vitreous layer deposited over chalk is of
chalky origin ; that covering granite is of the nature of
This does not apply to certain deposits found on
rocks, and even on trees, which have been struck by
lightning, and which are of very different origin.
Whilst the former is only the stone in a fused
or vitrified condition, the latter is caused by the
presence of foreign bodies, some fragments of which
have been detached by the ray and travel with it.
This transport of solid substances by lightning has
often been observed. Here are two examples of this
strange phenomenon :
On July 28, 1885, at Luchon, on the Bigorre
road a passer-by saw lightning fall twenty yards away
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 185
from him. Recovered from the shock, he went out
of curiosity to look at the result, and saw the wall at
the edge of the road, the schistous and chalky rocks,
even the trees themselves, coated over with layers of
brown. It was certainly a case of the lightning having
effected a deposit. This latter was very curious. Lines
could be traced on it with the finger-nail, it fell to
powder under slight pressure, became soft with gentle
rubbing, caught fire from a candle, and then gave off
a resinous odour with much smoke. What is this
resinous matter ? That is what no one yet can say.
In the month of July, 1885, on the day following
a violent thunderstorm which had struck the telegraph-
office in the station of Savigny-sur-Orge, I myself
picked up a little black powder off the telegraph poles,
which had been left by the lightning, and which had a
The production of this ponderable matter has often
been attributed to bolides, but direct observation proves
beyond a doubt that the electricity carries various solid
substances found on earth after a storm.
Lightning is truly the most venerable of glass-
makers. Long before the most remote peoples of
antiquity appeared, whose glasswares encrusted with
marvellous iridescent tones by the passing of the
centuries, are unearthed by scientific excavations, and
displayed in national collections; long before man
186 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
could have learnt to make use of the resources of
nature, lightning, burrowing in the sand, there fashioned
tubes of glass that hold the hues of the opal, and are
The ancients seem to have known of these fulgurite
tubes, but we owe the first precise description and the
first specimen of these extraordinary vitrifactions to
Hermann, a pastor at Massel in Silesia. His fulgurite,
found in 1711, is in the Dresden Museum.
Since this discovery, fulgurites have often been
sought for and found. The tubes, contracted at one
end, and ending in a point, are to be seen in sandy soils.
Their diameter varies from 1 to 90 millimetres,
and the thickness of their sides from half to 24 milli-
metres. As to the length, it sometimes exceeds 6
metres. Vitrified inside, they are covered outside with
grains of sand agglutinated and apparently rounded
as if they had been subjected to a beginning of fusion.
The colour depends on the nature of the sand in which
they have been formed. Where the sand is ferruginous
the fulgurite takes a yellowish hue, but if the sand is
very clean, it is almost colourless or even white. As
a rule, the fulgurites penetrate the ground vertically,
Nevertheless, they have been found in an oblique
position. At times, also, they are sinuous, twisted, or
even zigzag if they have met with pebbles of con-
EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON TREES 187
It is not uncommon for the fulgurite tube to divide
in two or three branches, each of which gives birth to
little lateral branches of 2 or 3 centimetres long, and
ending in points.
There are also solid fulgurites and foliated fulgurites.
The former, no doubt, had a canal originally, which has
been stopped up by matter in fusion. The latter,
instead of being stretched out in cylindrical form, are
composed of slender layers like the leaves of a book.
The scientific museum at the Observatory of Juvisy
possesses a very curious fulgurite which was offered to
me some years ago by M. Bernard d'Attanoux, and
found by him in Sahara. It is not a tube ending in a
point. The lightning penetrating the sand, vitrified
it on its passage, and branched irregularly in three
principal directions. One might say it was slag formed
by the juxtaposition, irregular and crumpled, of three
blades of vitrified sand, which would be pressed together
by leaving a narrow opening to their central vertical
axis. This fulgurite, which is extremely light, measures
six centimetres in length. It was found in the sand of
Grand-Erg, at a depth of several centimetres. It has
been found possible to produce miniature fulgurites by
means of our electrical machines. By adding ordinary
salt to the sand, and directing a strong current into it,
complete vitrification of a tube of several millimetres
THE EFFECTS OF LIGHTNING ON METALS, OBJECTS,
WHEN lightning strikes the earth, it makes straight for
metals. Their perfect conducting powers place them
in the first rank of conductors, and the innumerable
cases of lightning with which they are associated
have gained them a certain celebrity in the annals of
We know, indeed, the preference of the spark for
metals ; we know it nurses a veritable passion for nails,
wire, bell-pulls, that it dotes on rain-spouts, leaden
pipes, and telegraph wires, that it is very feminine in
its adoration of jewels, which it sublimates sometimes
with a truly fantastic dexterity.
Now and then lightning deviates from its path,
and performs acrobatic feats, elfin capers to reach the
objects it covets. On April 24, 1842, it struck the
church of Brexton, springing on the cross of the steeple
at first and running down the stem, but, arrived at
the masonry which supported it, broke it into pieces ;
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 189
then with one bound it fell upon a second conductor,
whose support was also broken. Finally, it struck a
third conductor much lower down.
The fluid often searches for metals hidden beneath
non-conductors, which it breaks or pierces. It avoids
the mattress to pursue the iron of the bed, glances off
the windows to glide over the curtain-rods, or the lead
of the sash. It has been seen to penetrate thick walls
to reach the iron safes hidden behind them.
We have already mentioned the case of the woman
who, without having been killed, had her ear-ring split.
Well, we have a certain number of similar examples to
On June 1, 1809, in a boarding-school for young
ladies, at Bordeaux, a gold chain, worn by one of the
young ladies, was melted by the lightning, which left a
black indented line in its place, which, however, soon
passed off. The lady was struck, but recovered con-
sciousness within a few hours, being none the worse.
Her slender chain, worn in three rows round her
neck, had been cut into five pieces. Some of the frag-
ments showed signs of fusion, and had been carried to
Other examples, in which the consequences were
more dramatic, will show ladies the dangers of a love
On September 21, 1901, during a violent
190 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
thunderstorm which burst over the region of Nar-
bonne, a fireball fell in the domain of Castelou.
A young girl of fourteen was fatally struck by the
meteor. The gold chain which she wore round her
throat was completely evaporated. There was not a
trace of it to be found.
It is not unusual to see gold chains broken, melted,
partially or completely, in the pocket which had held
Thus, lightning melted a watch and chain into a
single lump in the pocket of a man killed on board a
Bracelets, hairpins, and even precious stones are
sometimes very strangely altered.
As for watches, without speaking of the magnetiza-
tion observed after a violent electrical discharge, it has
been remarked that the movement became slower. In
some cases they stopped short, and marked the exact
instant when the lightning stopped them.
When the ship Eagle was struck by lightning, none
of the passengers were injured, but all their watches
stopped at the moment the shock took place.
At other times there are peculiarities in the works
which are absolutely inexplicable. The following obser-
vation, related by Biot, is a curious case in point.
A young man was slightly struck by lightning in
the street of Grenelle-Saint-Germain. His watch was
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 191
in no wise hurt outside, but, although it was only a
quarter-past eleven, the hands pointed to a quarter to
Convinced that it was in need of repair, the young
man placed it on his table, intending to take it to the
watchmaker ; but next day, thinking he would wind it
up to make sure of the extent of the damage, he saw,
to his amazement, the hands moved and kept regular
In some instances the case of the watch is seriously
injured, while the works are none the worse.
A man wore a watch with a double cap attached to
a gold chain. The chain was broken, some of the links
soldered together. The cap had been perforated, and
the gold spilt in his pocket. The watch itself had not
But if lightning sometimes stops the works of
watches, it also produces the contrary effect.
Beyer relates that a flash of lightning, having entered
a room and broken the corner of a glass, set a watch
going which had been stopped for a long time.
I find the following note amongst my papers :
" M. Coulvier-Gravier, director of the meteoric obser-
vatory of the palace of Luxembourg, told me yesterday
that on Sunday, April 8, at 9.35 in the evening, a
watch (wound up), which had stopped a week pre-
viously, went on at the moment lightning struck the
192 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
lightning conductor on the Luxembourg above these
Often enough the case is badly injured : the polish
is rubbed off the metal, it is melted, bored through,
and even dented, without any trace of fusion.
A case of the latter is rare. Here is an example,
In the month of June, 1853, a man from Aigremont
having been killed by lightning, his silver watch was
found in his watch-pocket completely smashed.
Indeed, one of the most common effects of lightning
on watches is the magnetization to which the various
pieces of steel are subjected. We have a considerable
number of records concerning these magnetic properties.
In one case the balance had its poles so well pointed
that, when placed on a raft, it served as a compass.
We may observe, by the way, that clocks and
chronometers are sometimes as much injured also by the
spark. It often gives an energetic twist to the needles,
or to the spring for regulating the strokes, or it even
melts the wheel-works, either partially or completely.
It is difficult to form any idea of the various
operations of lightning ; here it hurls itself down like
a fiery torrent, there it makes itself so tiny that it can
pass through the smallest apertures.
Does it not even slip under women's corsets, melting
the busks and the little knobs which serve to hook them.
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 193
It even attacks the various metal articles which
set off our garments, even to the shoe-buckles,
Keys are, as a rule, very ill-treated by the fire of
heaven : they are twisted, flattened, melted or soldered
to the ring from which they hang.
On May 12, 1890, a man living at Troves returned
to his house while a violent storm was raging. The
moment he put his key into the lock, the white gleam
of a dazzling flash of lightning surrounded him, the
ring holding his keys was broken in his hand, and they
were scattered on the threshold.
At times, too, scissors, needles, etc., are snatched
out of the hands of the workers, and carried some
distance off when they are not reduced to vapour.
At Saint-Dizier (Haute-Marne) in July, 1886,
lightning fell on the workshop of M. Penon, a chain -
maker. Five or six workmen were finishing their work
or getting ready to leave.
Entering by the window near which M. Penon who
was absent at the time usually worked, the fluid grazed
the bellows which were opposite, and caught up a piece
of it, which one would have thought was cut off with
a knife. Turning to the left, and passing behind a
chain-maker, who felt a violent shock, it passed to a
heap of chains which it did not damage much. All
the links in a chain of about a metre long were, however,
194 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
soldered together; the whole chain seemed to be
galvanized, and the soldering was not easily broken by
hand. Pieces of iron which had been cut and prepared
for the manufacture, were found twisted and soldered
together in the same way. Finally the lightning
snatched the iron hoops from a tub, and, returning the
same way, broke a piece of wood from a board, so as to
go through the lower part of a partition, the masonry
of which was carried away for a length of fifty centi-
Very often lightning rivals the most skilful cabinet-
makers : iron or copper nails are pulled out of a piece
of furniture with a most amazing skill, without doing
any harm to the material they kept in place. Ordinarily
they are thrown far away. Here are two examples of
this curious phenomenon :
On September 23, 1824, lightning penetrated a
house at Campbeltown ; the copper nails in the chairs
were pulled out very precisely, without the stuff being
spoiled. Some were conveyed to the corner of a box
standing at the opposite end of the room, others were
so solidly fixed in the partitions, that it was only with
great difficulty that they were pulled out (Ho war).
At another time, close to Marseilles, lightning slipped
into a drawing-room, one might say, like a robber,
one evening, and pilfered all the nails out of a couch
covered with satin. Then it departed by the chimney
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 195
through which it had entered. As for the nails, they
were found, two years afterwards, under a tile !
Locks, screws, door-knobs are frequently pulled out
by the fluid.
Sometimes metal objects of much larger size, such
as forks or agricultural instruments, share the same
fate. Violently torn out of the hands of their owners,
they start upon an aerial voyage, borne on the incan-
descent wings of the wrathful lightning.
Workers in the fields have often been warned of the
dangers to which they expose themselves beneath a
thundery sky, by carrying their implements with the
point in the air. Each year the same accidents occur
in precisely similar circumstances.
The electric fluid, invited by the metal point which
acts like a little lightning conductor, darts from the
clouds upon this centre of attraction, and runs into the
ordinary reservoir by the intermedial body of the man,
who plays the role of conductor.
Two labourers were spreading manure in a field,
when a storm came on. It was at the beginning of
May, 1901. Obliged to give up work, they were
thinking of returning home. Each carried an American
fork over his shoulder. They had come within 150
metres of the village, when a formidable burst of
flame took place over their heads. Instantly the two
labourers fell, never to rise again.
196 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
In 1903 I made notes of several cases of this kind,
from which I shall quote the two following :
On June 2, a labourer from the hamlet of Pair,
commune of Taintrux (Vosges), aged forty, was
sharpening a scythe in an orchard close to his house.
Suddenly a terrific clap of thunder was heard, and the
unfortunate man fell down stone dead.
On the following day, in the same region, at
Uzemain, not far from Epinal, a young man, twenty-
eight years of age, went to get grass in the country.
All at once he was struck by lightning, and his horse,
which he was holding by the bridle, as well. The
poor fellow had been guilty of the imprudence of
putting his scythe on the cart with its point in the air.
On May 27, in the Vosges, the lightning fell on
a labourer, Cyrille Begin, who was driving a cart to
which were yoked four horses. The unhappy man was
struck, as well as two of the horses.
Some authorities have attributed a doubly preserva-
tive influence to umbrellas. The first is undoubtedly
to shelter us from the rain ; the second, more doubtful,
is the gift of preserving us to a certain extent from
the strokes of the terrible meteor. Silk, having the
property of a veritable repulsion to lightning, one
might really believe that umbrellas, whose covers are
often made of this fabric, are protectors against the
fire of heaven. But the records which we possess are
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 197
not conclusive ; if, now and then, the discharge becomes
distributed by means of the ribs, it also very often
happens that it runs along the metal parts of the
handle to whatever pieces of metal may be on the
person, finally striking the soil through the human
On July 13, 1884, in the province of Liege, a man
and a woman sheltering under the same umbrella were
struck by lightning. The man was killed instantly.
His garments were in tatters, and the soles torn from
his shoes. His pipe was thrown twenty yards away,
as well as the artificial flowers in his companion's hat.
The latter, who was carrying the umbrella, was
At a season when, as a rule, thunder is not dreaded
December 9, 1884, to wit two men, who were
walking on either side of a schoolboy holding an
umbrella, were killed by lightning. The child was
merely thrown down, and got off with a few trifling
In each of these cases, the person who carried the
umbrella suffered less from the electric discharge, but
did not escape altogether, nevertheless. It may be
remarked, also, that the chief victims were just under
the points of the frame, and that in all probability the
electricity passed through these points.
The fusion of metals is one of the lightning's most
198 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
ordinary performances ; it has occurred at times in
On April 2, 1807, a fulminant discharge struck
the windmill at Great Marton, in Lancashire. A
thick iron chain, used for hoisting up the corn, must
have been, if not actually melted, at any rate con-
siderably softened. Indeed, the links were dragged
downwards by the weight of the lower part, and meet-
ing, became soldered in such a way that, after the
stroke of lightning, the chain was a veritable bar
How, one asks, can this truly formidable fusion
take place during the swift passage of the electric
spark, which disappears, it may well be said, " with
What magic force gives the fiery bolt from the
sky the power to transform the atmosphere into a
veritable forge, in which kilos of metal are melted in
the thousandth part of a second !
Great leaden pipes melt like a lump of sugar in
a glass of water, letting the contents escape.
In Paris, June 19, 1903, lightning broke tempestu-
ously into a kitchen, and, melting the gaspipes, set
fire to the place.
On another occasion, the meteor breaking into the
workshop of a locksmith, files and other tools hanging
from a rack on the wall were soldered to the nails
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 199
with which the iron ferrules of their handles came in
contact, and were with difficulty pulled apart.
A house at Dorking, Sussex, received a visit from
lightning on July 16, 1750. Nails, bolts, and divers
small objects were soldered together in groups of six,
seven, eight, or ten, just as if they had been thrown
into a crucible.
"Money melts, leaving the purse uninjured," says
Seneca. " The sword-blade liquifies, while the scabbard
remains intact. The iron in the javelin runs down the
handle, which is none the worse."
We could add other examples, quite as unheard of,
as those enumerated by the preceptor of Nero.
A hat- wire melted into nothing, though the paper
in which it was wrapped was not burnt.
Knives and forks were melted without the least
injury being done to the linen which enveloped them,
by the presence of the fluid.
These proceedings give proof of exquisitely delicate
feelings ; it is a pity the lightning does not always
behave in the same way.
Wires, and particularly bell- wires, make the most
agreeable playthings for the lightning, judging from
the frequency with which they are struck.
Sometimes, in the middle of a fearful thunderstorm,
the doorbell is violently rung; the porter rushes to
open the door for the impatient visitor, only to receive
200 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
a shock of lightning by way of salvo. The mysterious
hand which pulled the bell is already far away ; but
it has left its impress on the bell, and the guiding
ray follows the metal wire in all its windings, passing
through holes no bigger than the head of a pin. The
wires are often melted into globules, and scattered
around in all directions.
The Abbe Richard has seen globules from a bell-
wire fall into coffee cups, and become embedded in the
porcelain, without the latter being any the worse.
Metal wires supporting espaliers and vines are often
compromising to the safety of their neighbourhood,
especially when they are against a house.
Without renouncing the succulent peach, or the
golden chasselas grapes, propped on espaliers, we ought
to see that they are so arranged that they do not act
as lightning-conductors to our habitation.
In August, 1868, in a farm amongst the mountains
near Lyons, lightning fell at a distance of about fifteen
metres from a dwelling where there were four people ;
the meteor, conducted by the wire supporting a vine
on a trellis, followed it into the house, and knocked
the four people down.
One could almost believe that lightning takes a
certain pleasure in looking at its diaphanous and
fugitive form in the mirrors hung as ornaments in
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 201
In 1889, a very coquettish flash of lightning rushed
to a mirror, breaking more than ten openings in the
gilt frame. Then it evaporated the gilding, spreading
it over the surface of the glass, while on the silvered
back the evaporation of this latter metal produced the
most beautiful electric traceries.
Sometimes the tinfoil or pieces of melted glass are
thrown to a great distance; and at times the fusion
of the glass is so complete that the debris hangs down
like little stalactites.
As for the gilding of the frames, it is often care-
fully removed by the lightning to a distance, and
applied to the gilding of objects which were never
intended to receive this style of decoration.
It is just the same with the gilding on clocks,
cornices, church ornaments, etc.
There are innumerable examples coming under this
category. Here are a few :
On March 15, at Naples, lightning flashed through
the rooms of Lord Tylney, who was holding a reception
that evening. More than five hundred were present;
without any person being injured, the lightning took
the gilding clean off cornices, curtain-poles, couches,
and door-posts ; then it shook its booty in a fine gold
dust over the guests and the floor.
On June 4, 1797, lightning struck the steeple
of Philippshofen in Bohemia, and went off with the
202 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
gold of the clock, to gild the lead in the chapel
In 1761, it went into the church of the Academical
College in Vienna, and took the gold from the cornice
of one of the altar pillars to put it on a silver vase.
It seems difficult for lightning to resist the attrac-
tion of gildings. It was reported that when a house in
the Eue Plumet in Paris was struck in 1767, among
several frames hanging in a room, the spark only
touched one which was gilt. None of the others were
In spite of this extraordinarily independent be-
haviour, lightning has not so much liberty of action as
we might be tempted to believe ; it obeys certain laws
which are not yet defined, and its gestures, although
apparently wild and capricious, are not the result of
fortuitous circumstances. To allude to it as chance
may serve as a refuge from ignorance, but it does not,
any more than we can, explain the extraordinary
Why are certain organic or non-organic bodies
visited repeatedly by lightning? We need not have
recourse to magic to explain.
It is simply because they serve as favourable con-
ductors for the fluid. One of the best-known examples
of this kind is that of the church of Antrasme. It was
struck by lightning in 1752. It melted the gold of the
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 203
picture frames adorning the sanctuary, blackened the
edges of the niches in which the images stood, scorched
the pewter vases enclosed in a press in the sacristy ;
then, lastly, it made two very neat holes at the end of
a side chapel, by which it took its departure. The
traces of this disaster were removed with all haste, but
twelve years later, on June 20, 1764, the lightning
returned to the charge. It penetrated the church for
the second time, but the most remarkable fact is, that
it worked havoc similar to that done on its first visit.
Again the sacred picture-frames were despoiled of their
gilding, the niches of the saints blackened, the pewter
vases scorched, and the two holes in the chapel re-
opened. What demon guided the lightning in these
scenes of pillage ? The end of the story gives us
the clue. Soon after the catastrophe the use of the
lightning-conductor became general throughout the
whole world. The church was put under the protec-
tion of a rod of iron, after the principles of Franklin,
and ever since lightning allows the faithful to pray
in peace within the sanctuary, and has never returned
to profane the church at Antrasme.
Such incidents are of fairly frequent occurrence ;
they give us a chance of understanding the supposed
preferences of lightning.
In the last chapter we shall see curious cases of
" galvanoplasty," of the nature of the following:
204 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
amongst others, that of a piece of gold in a purse,
which was silvered over with silver taken out of another
part of the purse, through the leather of the com-
What a trick of prestidigitation ! On our music-
hall stages this turn would have a great success.
But our last word has not been said about lightning.
Just a few more.
One of the most curious effects produced on metals,
is the magnetic polarity communicated to objects in
steel and iron, no matter what they be. We have
already quoted a remarkable case, that of the ascending
A tailor was slightly touched by the spark ; the day
after the accident he found his needles were magnetized :
they clung closely to each other as they were taken out
of the case.
Another case of magnetization has been recorded,
where certain objects, which were struck by lightning,
had power to raise three times their own weight.
This magnetization is almost always temporary.
Examples are known, however, where objects preserved
the magnetic powers that they acquired in the moment
of the shock. And one can understand the terror
inspired by lightning in uncultured minds, when, after
the passing of the meteor, they see common things
suddenly animated by a fantastic vitality, fine needles
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 205
attract and raise very much larger bodies than them-
selves, and impart a feverish agitation to any pieces of
steel or iron that may be placed near them.
What a lively impression these curious phenomena
must have made on the minds of men in the days when
sorcery was in fashion, and when lightning was, accord-
ing to the belief then popular, at the service of heaven
and hell ! But, nowadays, sorcery is fallen into disuse ;
the magnetization of metal bodies, even when the
result of lightning, is something too well known to be
attributed to any connection with Satan.
And yet the gambols of electricity are truly extra-
In the month of June, 1873, the electric fluid
penetrated into a butcher's shop, quite calmly followed
the iron bars from which the quarters of meat were
hanging. From one of the hooks a whole ox was
suspended. All at once the skinned carcase was gal-
vanized by the electric current, and during several
instants it was seen convulsed by the most frightful
Again, on June 28, 1879, a concierge in the Avenue
de Clichy was sweeping his courtyard when the light-
ning broke at one metre above his head. The poor
man escaped with the fright. The fluid ran up the
leaden pipes and entered a room, where it broke the
mirrors and a clock, injured the ceiling, and got off by
206 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
breaking the panes in the window. On the upper
storey it got into a lodging occupied by two old women,
where it caused the following damage : one of the
women was holding a bowl of milk, the bottom of the
bowl was cracked and the milk spilled on the floor ;
some money which was in a wooden bowl disappeared
and could not be found. The clock was stopped at
half-past six, the pendulum unhooked; and a hole
made in a glass globe the size of a five-shilling piece.
Finally, a woman in bed on the same landing saw
the bed split in two by the lightning, which dis-
appeared in the wall. None of these persons were
As a general rule, indeed, when lightning breaks
into houses, although it often does a great deal of
harm, it almost always spares the people who may be
there. One is safer there than anywhere else.
Sometimes the walls are pierced or merely hollowed.
This perforation of the walls is one of the most common
effects of the meteor on buildings.
The thickness of the perforated walls is very
At the Castle of Clermont, in Beauvaisis, there was
a formidable old wall, built in the time of the Romans,
so tradition has it, which was ten feet thick, and the
cement was as hard as stone, so that it was almost
impossible to break it. "One day,"" says Nollet, "a
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 207
flash of lightning struck it, and instantly a hole, two
feet deep and equally wide, was made in it, the debris
being thrown more than fifty feet away.""
On June 17, 1883, at Louvemont (Haute-Marne),
the wall of a bakehouse, fifty-five centimetres wide,
was broken in by lightning.
The church at Lugdivan was struck by lightning in
1761. Two furrows like those made by a plough were
to be seen on the wall.
One of the most dreadful acts of which lightning is
capable is that of hurling considerable masses of stone
and rock, broken or intact, to great distances. We
have numerous examples of this terrible phenomenon.
Here are a few :
On August 23, 1853, thunder burst over the belfry
of Maison-Ponthieu. The explosion scattered the
slates and beams of the roof, and shot a stone,
measuring thirty-five centimetres, to a distance of
twenty metres. Rough stones, weighing more than
forty pounds, were torn up and thrown almost horizon-
tally as far as an opposite wall thirty feet away.
At Fuzie-en-Fetlar, in Scotland, towards the end of
the eighteenth century, lightning broke, in about two
seconds at most, a mica-schist rock of one hundred and
fifty feet long, by ten broad, and in some parts four feet
thick ; this it split into great pieces. One, measuring
twenty-six feet long by ten broad, and four in thickness,
208 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
fell on the ground twenty centimetres off. Enormous
stones are thrown, at times, in different directions.
In 1762 lightning struck the belfry of Breag Church
in Cornwall, broke the stone pinnacle of the edifice, and
threw one of the stones, weighing at least a hundred-
weight and a half, on the roof of the apsis, in a
southerly direction, fifty-five metres away.
In a northerly direction another huge stone was
found at 365 metres or so from the belfry ; and a third,
still larger, to the south-east of the church.
In certain cases the lightning unites a fantastic skill
with this excessive brutality. For instance, a wall has
been removed intact without being broken in any part.
Here is a record of one such extraordinary occurrence :
On August 6, 1809, at Swinton, near Manchester,
during a deluge of rain, the lightning all at once filled
a brick building, in which coal was stored, full of
pestilential, sulphureous vapour. Above it was a
cistern half full. Suddenly the edifice, the walls of
which measured thirty centimetres in thickness, were
torn out of the ground, the foundations being sixty
centimetres deep, and was transported in an upright
position to a distance of ten metres.
The weight of this mass, so oddly and so rapidly
moved by lightning, was estimated at ten thousand
In many cases, on the contrary, the subtle fluid has
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 209
pulverized a hard stone on the spot and reduced it to
Tiles and slates are very often torn off the roofs :
the lightning makes them fly through the air. Some-
times it is content to perforate them with a multitude
of little holes.
As for chimneys, they are generally very ill-treated
by the meteor. The blows of which they are victims
are to be accounted for easily, for they offer perfect
powers of conducting to the fulminant matter, firstly,
because of their prominence on the summit of the
building, especially when they are surmounted by a
vane. Again, the flue is often in cast-iron, and if it is
bricked it is supported by bars of iron. The surface
of the interior is covered with a layer of soot, an
excellent conductor, and a stove-pipe often opens into
it. Then, too, the hearth and its surroundings are
more or less made of metal. Finally, the column of
smoke and of hot, damp air rising into the air, shows
the lightning the way.
The latter often accepts this invitation, and very
frequently gets into a house by the chimney, where
everything seems ready for its reception.
Rafters and doors are sometimes bored through with
one or two holes by the spark, and split or furrowed
more or less deeply. A curious fact is that it is rare
to find the slightest trace of combustion round them.
210 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
In the month of August, 1887, lightning struck the
belfry of the church at Abrest (Allier), carrying oft'
part of the roof.
It destroyed the walls of the porch, and in both
sides of the swing doors bored two holes, each as big as
a pigeon's egg, and as symmetrically as if they had
been made by the hand of man.
The cleavage of beams is amongst the most extra-
ordinary injuries to be observed on woodwork. Light-
ning works with wrought wood just as it does when the
tree is in full sap : it reduces it to rags, and follows the
direction of the fibres.
With what crimes lightning is charged ! When it is a
question of robbing a house, it spares nothing in its way.
The window-panes fly in pieces, and sometimes are
thrown a long way off. Often they are melted and
In July, 1783, at Campo Sampiero Castello (Padua),
lightning struck a building full of hay ; the windows
had glass in them, and the panes were melted without
the hay catching Jire !
A still more astonishing phenomenon is that of the
total disappearance of the glass panes, observed at the
Castle of Upsal, on August 24, 1760. Lightning visited
this edifice and then took flight, carrying off sixteen
panes out of a window. Not the smallest fragment of
them was ever found.
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 211
Perhaps, as often happens, terrific heat was
generated, and the glass evaporated.
If we follow the track of lightning through rooms,
very singular effects may be seen on the furniture.
Chests of drawers and wardrobes are gutted, and the
contents pulled out and strewn about the room. In
the middle of August, 1887, a house at Francines, near
Limoges, was struck by lightning. It fell in a room
where the master of the house was in bed. He felt a
terrific shock, and saw his eiderdown pierced through
and through by the perfidious fluid, and a chest of
drawers with all its contents broken. Continuing on
its way, the lightning demolished the door and entered
A man who was asleep in it was killed. His wife
by his side and his little girl felt nothing, but a pillow
on which one of them had her head was thrown to a
distance. Finally, the meteor went through the floor,
broke a large clock on the ground floor, setting fire to
everything on its way.
On June 1, 1903, a fulminant ray fell on the
church of Cussy-la-Colonne (Cote d'Or). To start, it
turned the clock tower upside down, broke a clock,
then opened a cupboard in the sacristy in which there
were various articles, and broke them all.
In April, 1886, lightning did great damage in
the church at Montredon (Tarn). It demolished the
212 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
steeple to an extent of three metres, several bells, and
carried the enormous iron bar which supported them a
long way off. The roof of the church was burst in and
the tiles were pulverized in several places by the falling
masonry. In the interior a bench was broken, an
image of Christ reduced to powder, and a metal image
of St. Peter twisted.
We may remark, by the way, that churches are
very often struck by lightning, doubtless owing to the
height of the steeple above the edifice.
We have innumerable notes about ruined steeples,
turrets knocked off, the plundering of priestly objects.
Sculptures and pictures adorning the sanctuary are
often destroyed, and the altar itself shattered. Cases
of priests struck while officiating are not uncommon.
As for the faithful killed while at church, they may be
counted by the hundred.
Without wishing to call lightning a miscreant or
an infidel, one is obliged to confess it fails in respect
for holy places.
However, the quips and cranks of lightning observed
in dwellings are no less varied and curious.
Here are some remarkable accounts :
One night during a terrible thunderstorm, light-
ning came down the chimney of a room where two
people were asleep. The husband awoke with a start
and, believing the house to be on fire, groped his way
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 213
to the mantelpiece to get a candle, but was stopped by
a heap of rubbish. Everything, in fact, of which the
chimney had once consisted was heaped up in the
middle of the room. The mantelshelf, violently torn
off, had been partly melted, the clock had had the door
of the case pulled off, and all the window-panes were
broken. On the lower storey, another clock was similarly
demolished, the floor was torn up and the tiles thrown
with such force against the ceiling that there were
splinters sticking all over it.
In the month of April, 1866, at Bure (Luxembourg),
the thunder, which had been rumbling for some time,
suddenly crashed down all at once about midnight with
the most appalling violence, so that the ground seemed
to tremble and the houses rock on their foundations.
All the inhabitants, aroused in terror ; instinctively
several of them sprang out of bed, thinking that their
dwellings must be annihilated. Every one had the
presentiment of disaster, which was only too real : the
fluid had just struck the house of a poor workman, and
left a scene of frightful destruction behind it.
The roof had been carried off, the chimney de-
stroyed, the windows reduced, so to speak, to atoms,
the principal door smashed and hurled to a distance ;
of the furniture there was nothing left but shapeless
wreckage. But what was most extraordinary is, that
this catastrophe only cost the life of one person, while
214 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
all that were in the house might well have been
Three children, sleeping in an upper storey, found
themselves thrown outside the house without knowing
how they got there, but safe and sound, though the
bed was broken to pieces. The father and mother
were asleep on the ground floor, with two little
children, one of whom was at the breast. This latter
was flung out of his cradle and thrown against the
wall, without being hurt.
At this moment the mother sprang out of bed to
succour those dear to her, but while the poor woman
was in the act of lighting a candle, the lightning struck
her lifeless on the floor. The husband, who was in the
bed with another child, only felt a severe shaking. The
lightning, having accomplished its work of destruction,
finally broke an opening in the lower part of the wall,
went into the stable adjoining the house, and there
killed the only cow that was in it.
In the month of August, 1868, at Liege, Rue du
Calvaire, at the point where the mountain of St.
Laurent is highest, lightning first of all struck two
earthenware chimney-pots which were higher than the
roofs. One of these pots was thrown to the ground
and broken, the other disappeared. Then the electric
spark ripped off a great part of the roof. All the tiles
were scattered round the house. A young servant
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 215
slept in a garret under the roof; the lightning pene-
trated into the garret through a little hole in the wall
just above the head of the maid's bed; the latter was
flung into the middle of the room without the slightest
bruise, though the wood of the bed was bored through
in two places.
From there, the spark going through the wall again,
went down to the ground floor, following the gutter
pipe, which it broke. It re-entered the house by making
a little hole in the wall, pulled off the plaster which
was round two nails holding up a mirror, broke part
of the frame ; again left the room, entered a little room
adjoining where six people were sleeping the father,
the mother, and four young children ; pierced the wall
to enter a locksmith's, scattered all the tools, tore out
a drawer, broke it into a thousand pieces, and threw
the contents on the floor, broke all the panes of glass ;
again went through the wall, went to a hutch with a
rabbit in it, killed the animal, and at last went into
the garden, where it dug a double trench several feet
The house was occupied by two families of ten
persons, none of whom were struck. Terrified by the
report they rose instantly ; the smell of smoke filling
all the rooms told them of the danger they had just
On another occasion one sees the woodwork of the
216 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
chimney burnt, as well as a press, a looking-glass, and
a clock badly injured by the lightning; which before
retiring, and by way of being a good joke, turns a felt
hat upside down, and unscrews the andirons.
Examples of this kind are very numerous. We
constantly speak of the caprices of the lightning, but
what name could one give to anything so burlesque or
incomprehensible as the following :
In the month of July, 1896, lightning fell in the
village of Boulens, on a cottage almost covered with
thatch. Entering through the chimney, which it des-
troyed, it first threw down a rack, pulling out the hinge
which held it up, and making in the place of the said
hinge a hole right through the wall. Afterwards it
lifted a pot and the lid from the hearth over to the
middle of the floor, tearing up some tiles as it went.
It broke the latch of the hall door, as well as the key
which was in the lock ; this latter was found afterwards
in a wooden shoe which was under the sideboard. Two
canes that were beside the mantelpiece, were laid on
the said mantelpiece as if placed there by hand.
A meat chopper and a copper basin used for ladling
water out of a pail, and attached to either end of the
stove, were likewise thrown into the middle of the
room. But the oddest part was that these two articles
were fastened together, the twine which served to hang
up the chopper being rolled round the handle of the
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 217
basin. Finally, the flash divided, and zigzagged off, one
part carrying off a piece of the oak jamb of the hall
door, the other part piercing a hole above the stove in
a mud wall. Through this it threw fragments of laths
and mortar into a window eleven metres off, near which
two people were sleeping.
This little dance, in which so many and various
articles took part, does not lack piquancy !
This is how lightning joins in the National Fete
of France !
On July 14, 1884, in the village of Tourettes
(Vaucluse), lightning struck a house, carrying off a
corner of the roof. It knocked off the lower part of
the roof, and broke through a wall at least fifty centi-
In a press built half into the wall, and in which
there were about fifteen bottles containing various
kinds of liqueur, only one bottle of spirits was broken,
and this was done in such a manner that no trace could
ever be found either of the glass or the liquid.
From thence it sprang to the pictures hanging
above the head of a little girl of five, who was sound
asleep. Three pictures were torn from their frames,
engravings and mirrors were ground to powder, but
the child was not hurt. Then the electric current
made an opening in the ceiling, which was about forty-
five centimetres thick, broke a great many tiles as it
218 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
left the house, but soon returned by way of the chimney,
three parts of which it demolished. Then it explored
the kitchen on the ground floor, where there were three
men by a fire. One, standing up, was thrown violently
against the opposite wall; another was hurled against
the door; the third, seated, was raised from his chair
to a height of at least fifty centimetres, and then
dropped. To crown all, the spark tore away half the
butt-end of a gun, and carried it into the next room,
where there were eleven people who got off with
nothing worse than the fright. Then going up the
chimney, it exploded at a height of 1'50 metre, throwing
bits of plaster and of the pothanger in all directions.
What frantic and almost childlike fury !
Yet somewhere else the very brother of this ray
may caress the little head of a sleeping child, and not
do it the slightest harm ; may scoop a hole in the little
cot, and then depart quietly without giving any further
cause for talk. Or this same lightning, terrible and
ungovernable at times, will snatch something out of
a person's hand with so much dexterity, one might
almost say delicacy, that one would hardly dare to
reproach him with his lack of ceremony.
At Perpignan on August 31, 1895, lightning fell
on the mountains of Nyer, near Olette. Twenty-five
out of a flock of sheep were struck. The shepherd was
enveloped by a flash, yet escaped, but the knife he was
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 219
holding in his hand disappeared and likewise his
Another time it fell on a house at Beaumont (Puy-
de-Dome), flashed through every part of it, blew up the
stone staircase, and did considerable damage. It grazed
a woman who was sitting with a cup in her hand, but
she was not hurt, though the cup was rudely torn out
of her hands.
In July, 1886, a labourer was in the act of mowing,
when lightning coming on unawares, stole his scythe
and threw it 10 metres away. The man was not in the
The following example is truly amazing from this
point of view.
A woman was busy milking a cow, when suddenly
she saw a tongue of fire shoot into the stable and round
it, pass between a cow and the wall at a place where
there was not more than 30 or 35 centimetres of space,
and finally go out of the door without leaving any
marks, or hurting any living thing.
Very often lightning contents itself with making a
frightful hubbub, and breaking any china or glass it
may come across.
In July, 1886, thunder burst over a house at
Langres. It was at breakfast-time. The fluid came
down the chimney, which it swept thoroughly, came
near the table, ran between the legs of an astounded
220 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
guest, and then knocked a hole as big as a shilling
in the neck of a bottle which was being filled at the
pump. Then it took itself off to the courtyard, which
it swept clean, and disappeared without hurting any
of the witnesses of this strange phenomenon.
On August 3, 1898, two women were in the dining-
room of their house at Coufolens, when lightning broke
a pane of glass in the window, and passing within a
few metres of them, went through the kitchen, and dis-
appeared through the wall, after having broken several
cooking utensils and the mantelpiece into atoms.
At Port-de-Bouc, on August 21, 1900, lightning
struck the custom house, went into the room of one of
the officials, and cut clean in two a china vase, which
was on the mantelpiece, without separating the pieces.
Several days later, on August 26, the mysterious
fluid came to disturb the peaceful repast of two honest
labourers. Having taken refuge from the storm in a
hut, they had set out their provisions for breakfast.
All at once the thunderstorm burst into the humble
dining-room, snatched up the bread, cheese, etc., over-
turned the bottles and other articles, covered everything
with straw, as if by a violent gust of wind. The
labourers felt nothing but stupefaction.
Was not it a veritable farce ?
In another place it bursts open a cupboard, throw-
ing the door away, and damaging the crockery in the
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 221
most systematic fashion : it breaks the first plate, leaves
the second intact, cracks the next, spares the fourth,
and so on to the bottom of the pile. Then its task
finished, it becomes quite diminutive, like some little
gnome out of a fairy story, and flees through the key-
hole, but without making the key spring out of the
On August 19, 1866, at Chaumont, lightning, having
played havoc in a house in various ways, espied a pile
of plates in a cupboard, china and earthenware plates
being mixed, it broke all the china ones, leaving the
Why this preference ? The lightning does not
explain. It is for us to find out.
On May 31, 1903, at Tillieu-sous-Aire (Eure),
during a thunderstorm, a number of china plates were
filled with a kind of sticky water. The earthenware
plates beside them were not even wet. I received a
little flask of this water sent me by the parish priest,
but analysis revealed nothing unusual.
The following case gives a formal denial to the
ancient prejudice which attributes a cabalistic influence
to the number thirteen.
There were thirteen people in the dining-room of a
house at Langonar while the thunder rumbled outside.
Suddenly a flash of lightning struck a plate in the
middle of the table, threw dishes, glasses, plates, knives,
222 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
and forks in all directions in a word, cleared the table,
not forgetting the tablecloth.
None of the thirteen guests were touched.
It sometimes happens, indeed, that glasses or bottles
are altogether or partly melted. Boyle gives a very
curious instance of the kind.
Two large drinking glasses were side by side on a
table. They were exactly alike. Lightning seemed to
pass between them, yet neither was broken ; one was
slightly distorted, however, and the other so much bent
by an instantaneous softening that it could hardly stand.
When firearms are struck by lightning, their in-
juries are often of the most varied kind. Sometimes
the wood, particularly of the butt-end, is split, or
broken to pieces, the metal parts torn out, or thrown
On July 27, 1721, the meteor struck a sentry-box
at Fort Nicolai, Breslau, and pierced the top to get
at the sentry and his gun. The barrel was blackened ;
the butt-end broken and thrown to a distance. The
shot had been discharged and pierced the roof of the
The man got off with a few scratches.
However, firearms when carried by men appear to
attract the lightning. Soldiers are often enough struck
when in the exercise of their calling, when they are
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 223
But, curiously enough, many cases are known in
which lightning has struck a loaded gun, melting the
bullet and part of the barrel, without setting fire to
Thus, at Prefling, lightning penetrated the room
of a gamekeeper, yet none of the many firearms
hanging up went off. The wall was damaged between
each rifle. One was standing in a corner of the room ;
the wall was injured on a level with the lower end, and
above it a hole was to be seen in the woodwork.
On June 1, 1761, near Nimburg, lightning burst
into the house of a horse-keeper, where it struck a
loaded carbine leaning against a wall on the ground
floor. The muzzle was slightly melted by the spark,
which ran along the barrel to the trigger, and which
it soldered together in parts. There were five bullets
melted and soldered together in the magazine and the
wads much scorched. However, incredible as it may
seem, there was no explosion.
In another case the lightning went the whole length
of a rifle, both inside and outside, leaving a direct line
of fusion, and yet, incredible though it may seem, no
shot was fired though the fusion reached the powder.
These phenomena appear quite extraordinary, and
altogether incompatible with the usual theory of the
combustibleness of gunpowder. To what cause can the
invulnerability of the explosive matter be due ?
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Doubtless to the quickness of the lightning, which
does not leave the powder time enough to ignite.
Powder magazines are frequently struck by light-
ning, and this subject is one of very great interest; they
are not always blown up, in spite of the vast quantities
of explosive materials which they contain.
Here are some examples which go to prove this
On November 5, 1755, lightning fell near Rouen
on the Maromme powder magazine, and split one of
the beams of the roof. Two barrels of powder were
reduced to atoms without exploding. The magazine
contained eight hundred of these barrels.
Can it be that man's thunder can repulse that of
Not always, as numerous examples prove the con-
trary. The following observations are extracted from
a collection of similar facts :
Lightning struck the tower of St. Nazaire, Brecia,
on August 18, 1769. It stood above an underground
magazine containing a million kilogrammes of powder
belonging to the Republic of Venice. The whole
edifice was blown up, the stones falling in showers.
Part of the town was thrown down ; three thousand
At four o'clock in the afternoon of October 6,
1856, lightning penetrated the vaults of the church
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 225
of St. Jean, at Rhodes, setting fire to an enormous
quantity of powder. Four or five thousand people
lost their lives in the catastrophe.
The power of lightning is immeasurable. Well, it
sometimes enjoys itself after the following manner :
In 1899 it lit a candle which had just been put
out. The person who held it was not struck, but the
shock sent him to sleep for four days ; then he awoke,
only to go mad, and then slept for seven consecutive
At Harbourg it put out all the lights at a ball ;
the room was plunged in darkness, and filled with thick
and fetid vapour.
Many a time, too, has a fire, burning brightly in
a grate, been suddenly extinguished by lightning ; and
the same thing has happened with pottery and tile-
making furnaces. As a rule, it is extremely difficult to
re-light candles or fires thus extinguished. In some
instances it takes on itself to light the gas.
On August 3, 1876, near the Observatory in
Pans, Rue Leclerc, towards the corner of the Boule-
vard Saint Jacques, a gas jet was lit by lightning.
The latter was twenty centimetres from a long gutter,
and was in the gap, so to speak, of an electric circuit
formed by it and the damp wall communicating with
the ground. A violent explosion took place at the
moment the gas caught alight, the gas meter, on the
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
wall two metres above it, was dislodged, when a second
explosion was heard. The thunder-clap was truly
terrific, and immediately followed the lightning flash.
The chronometer in the meteorological bureau in the
Observatory was stopped suddenly. The keeper of
the square of the Luxembourg saw a ball of red fire
explode with great violence, and scatter in all directions.
The plate belonging to the Peres was, according to
M. de Fonvielle, broken to a thousand pieces, and the
outer part of an iron bar was volatilized. There were
no deaths or injuries to record, although several people
were thrown down by the shock.
Sometimes great disasters are indirectly caused by
lightning. Thus in July, 1903, it set fire to an old
house at Muda, Paluzzo. Under other circumstances,
the accident might have been insignificant. But,
fanned by a violent wind, the flames increased, and,
approaching nearer and nearer, burned a hundred
houses, or in other words, the whole village.
A similar catastrophe took place at the village of
Ochres, in Dauphine, on August 27, 1900. Lightning
set fire to twenty thatched cottages/ which, out of
thirty-two composing the village, were in ashes within
less than an hour. Three persons were burnt alive,
and four others seriously injured.
On August 25, 1881, lightning struck the village
of Saint Innocent, at three o'clock in the morning.
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 227
Seven houses were totally burnt, and three women
perished in the flames.
A fire caused by lightning burst out on June 24,
1872, at Perrigny, near Pontailler (Cote d'Or). Seven-
teen houses were burnt, and seventy-eight people found
themselves homeless. Sometimes these disasters attain
During an awful thunderstorm, the electric spark
set fire to eighteen parishes in Belgium ; ruin spread
over an area of 160 kilometres.
But could anything be more dreadful than the fate
of certain ships that have been struck by lightning ?
Here is the case of one which was literally cut in
On August 3, 1862, the ship Moses, on her passage
from Ibraila to Queenstown, was overtaken in sight of
Malta by a violent thunderstorm. Towards midnight
lightning struck the mainmast, and then downwards
along it to the hold, cutting the vessel in two. She
filled immediately. Crew and passengers were lost.
Captain Pearson was on the bridge, and had just
time to catch a floating spar, which supported him
during seventeen hours. The ship sank in three
At the commencement of last century, the ship Royal
Charlotte being in Diamond Harbour, on the Hoogley,
was struck by lightning and blown into a thousand
228 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
pieces, through the explosion of her powder magazine.
The report was heard a great distance off, and the
shock was felt for miles around.
The form and position of the masts exposes them
particularly to the attacks of the dread meteor. Several
examples are known of sailors being struck by the
electric current while aloft in the rigging, and even
being thrown from there into the sea.
On August 26, 1900, the steamer Numidie, sailing
from Bone, was struck by lightning. The fluid fell on
the mizzen-mast, and went down the standing jib,
to which the second officer was clinging. The un-
fortunate man had had both his hands paralyzed and
fallen ; but if he had fallen on the outside of the
draille, death would have been inevitable.
The Rodney was under weigh before Syracuse when
it was struck. This was on December 7, 1838. The
top-gallant-mast went first ; it weighed eight hundred
pounds, and such was the violence of the stroke that it
was instantly reduced to shavings, which hung the
whole length of the vessel, like rubbish in a carpenter's
shop. The topmast was very much damaged and
shattered here and there. As for the mainmast, with
its ironwork weighing more than a ton, it was wrecked
for a length of some seventeen metres.
At times the masts are split from top to bottom,
broken or cut transversely in fragments, and flung to a
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 229
distance. Sometimes they are planed, like the beams
and trees of which we have already spoken.
The Blake was struck by lightning in 1812. The
top-gallant-mast was in green pine, which was split into
long fibres in every direction, like branches of a tree.
It is not unusual for lightning to creep into the
heart of a mast and do it all kinds of injuries,
without in any way hurting the outside; in a word,
there may be single or double furrows, longitudinal or
zigzag, sometimes curved, and of varying depth. Some-
times also, the electric current, far more powerful than
the blast of the wind, seizes the rigging and carries it
off. This phenomenon was observed on the Clenker,
December 31, 1828 ; the topmast and sails were torn
off and thrown into the water. Neither are the sails
spared by the terrible meteor ; they are torn, riddled
with holes, or set on fire. But as a rule the yards are
One of the most frightful effects of thunder on
ships is fire, which it drives from one part of the vessel
to another. Under ordinary circumstances it is usually
local, and easily extinguished; but when it seizes on
various parts of the ship at once, as when struck by
lightning, then destruction becomes inevitable.
In 1793 the King George from Bombay was sailing
up the river at Canton, when an electric spark, followed
by a violent clap of thnnder, grazed the mizzen-mast,
230 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
and disappeared in the hold, after killing seven men.
Seven hours later it was discovered with consternation
that the hold, full of an inflammable cargo, was on
fire. It spread rapidly over the whole ship, which it
burned to the water's edge.
The ship Bayfield from Liverpool was struck by
lightning November 25, 1845. Instantly the deck was
seen covered with globes of fire and large sparks, which
set fire to the vessel. As it threatened the powder-
magazine, the captain decided to abandon the ship.
A rush was made for the boats, but as only thirty
pounds of bread could be saved, many perished of
hunger and thirst.
Often, indeed, the explosion of the powder-magazine
makes the catastrophe even more terrible. Thus, in
1798, the English vessel the Resistance, was blown up
in the Straits of Malacca. Only two or three of the
crew were saved.
But lightning plays more tricks with the compass
than with anything else when it visits a ship. The
vibrating, quivering, magnetic needle is often paralyzed
by the electric current ; sometimes its poles are re-
versed, or the points, disturbed by the passage of the
spark, deviate, and no longer responding to the magnetic
pole, mislead and move hither and thither.
Sometimes they even lose all their magnetic pro-
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC.
These changes in the compass often lead to disastrous
consequences. Many cases are known of ships being
steered to destruction through the deviation of the
compass. Arago tells of a Genoese ship which, about
the year 1808, sailing for Marseilles, was struck a little
way off Algiers. The needles of the compasses all
made half a revolution, although the instruments did
not appear to be injured, and the vessel was wrecked
on the coast when the pilot believed he could round
the cape to the north. This may account for the total
disappearance of certain ships.
Some ships, like certain individuals and certain
trees, appear in particular to attract the electric fluid.
We have many records of vessels struck several times
in the course of a single electric storm. Here are
a few :
On August 1, 1750, the Malacca was struck re-
In 1848, the Competitor was struck twice within an
At the beginning of December, 1770, between
Mahon and Malta, the ship of a Russian admiral was
struck three times in a single night.
On January 5, 1830, in the Straits of Corfu, the
Madagascar received five destructive discharges in two
We could add many others to this list. But
232 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
enough. And yet we have not said the last word on
the subject. We have to discuss the interchange of
sympathetic currents, and those which are the reverse,
taking place between the electricity of the skies and
that of the telegraph.
Lightning often comes incognito to visit the earth's
surface, or even the depths of the ocean. These little
excursions to our terrestrial dominions usually pass
unperceived ; however, in certain cases the telegraph
wires commit the indiscretion of revealing them.
On the other hand, we know that the wires en-
trusted with carrying our thoughts round the world,
are almost inconceivably sensitive. Without being con-
scious of the fact, they are in correspondence with
the sun, 149 millions of kilometres away, and any
agitation on the surface of this luminary may cause
them indescribable agitation, as we witnessed at the
close of the year 1903.
During the formidable magnetic tempest of the
31st October, telegraphic and telephonic communica-
tion were interrupted in many parts of the world.
In fact, the phenomenon was observed all over the
surface of the globe. From nine o'clock in the morn-
ing, till four in the afternoon, the old world and the
new were strangers to one another. Not a word nor
a thought crossed the ocean; the submarine cables
were paralyzed on account of solar disturbances. In
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 233
France, communication between the principal towns
and the frontiers was interrupted During this time
the sun was in a condition of violent agitation, and
its surface vibrated with intense heat. In such times
the subtle fluid profits by the confusion to glide noise-
lessly along the paths which are open to it. But he
does not always wait for these favourable opportunities.
Let a thunder-cloud pass over the telegraph wires,
either noiselessly or hurling petards in all directions,
the line will be affected. The fluid imprisoned in the
sky will act by induction on the electricity of the wires
which will result in the vibration of the latter, ac-
companied sometimes by a flash of lightning. These
phenomena may cause grave accidents to the telegraph
clerks, unless they are on their guard against the
treachery of the lightning. These mute discharges
happen frequently, but the spark strikes the telegraph
wires often, too, as well as the apparatus in the office.
All sorts of accidents result from these repeated
We know, for instance, how the birds fall victims
to the lightning when they alight on the telegraph
wires after a thunderstorm ; they are often found dead
hanging by their claws.
But the fluid acts on man also, through the medium
of the wires.
Thus, on April 13, 1863, a telegraph clerk was
234 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
engaged with several other employees repairing some
telegraph wires in the station at Pontarlier, when
all at once they felt, at the knee-joints more particu-
larly, a violent shock which made them bend their
legs as if they had been struck with a stick ; one of
them was even thrown down. No doubt the fluid
reached the wires, which in those remote parts was in
charge of the clerks.
On September 8, 1848, during a violent thunder-
storm, two telegraph poles were thrown down at
Zara in Dalmatia. Two hours later, as they were
being set up again, a couple of artillerymen, having
seized the wire, felt slight electric shocks, then suddenly
found themselves flat on the ground. Both had their
hands burnt ; one indeed, gave no sign of life ; the
other, in trying to raise himself up, fell back as soon
as his arm came in contact with that of one of his
comrades, who ran to his assistance on hearing him cry
for help. The latter thrown down in turn, felt his
nerves tingle, and giddiness seize him, with singing
in his ears. When his arm was uncovered, there
was a superficial burn just on the spot where he had
On May 9, 1867, lightning fell on the road
from Bastogne to Houffalize (Luxembourg), attracted
by the telegraph wire, which it destroyed for about
a kilometre. At a certain part, and over a length
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 235
of about twenty metres, the wire was cut in small
pieces, three or four centimetres long, which were
scattered over the ground, and were as black and as
fragile as charcoal. The poles which supported them,
and several poplars planted on the same side of the
road, were more or less damaged.
It has been observed that trees planted on the same
side as a telegraph line were sometimes blasted on a
level with the wires. It is the same with houses
near the copper threads along which human thoughts
take wing. Thus, at Chateauneuf-Martignes, on
August 25, 1900, lightning destroyed the telegraph
poles on the outskirts of the railway-station. A severe
shock, like an electrical discharge, was felt at the same
moment by two people who were in bed, not far from
where the wire was fixed in the wall of the house,
which was a very low one. The same phenomenon
had been felt there already.
In the railway-stations, as well as in the telegraph
and telephone offices, curious results of the spark
passing at a certain distance, or even in the immediate
neighbourhood, are sometimes observed.
On May 17, 1852, towards five o'clock, the
sky looking overcast, the station-master at Havre
warned his colleague at Beuzeville that it would be
well to put his apparatus in connection with the
ground. Beuzeville is twenty-five kilometres away
236 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
from Havre, and at the former station the weather
then did not look at all threatening. But clouds soon
piled up, driven before a violent wind. Suddenly
three awful peals of thunder succeeded each other in
quick succession. With the last, lightning struck a
farm about a kilometre from the station, and at the
same moment a globe of fire of a reddish brown, and
apparently about the size of a small bomb-shell, rose
as if out of a clump of trees. It glided through the
air like an aerolite, and leaving behind it a train of
light. At a hundred metres or so from the station,
it alighted like a bird on the telegraph wires, then
disappeared with the rapidity of lightning, leaving
no trace of its passage, either on the wires or the
station. But at Beuzeville several interesting pheno-
mena were observed. Firstly, the needles turned
rapidly, with a grating noise like that of a turnspit
suddenly running down, or like a grindstone sharpening
iron, which emits sparks. A great number, indeed,
flew out of the apparatus. One of the needles, that
on the Rouen side, went out of order ; all the screws
on that part of the instrument were unscrewed, and on
the copper dial near the axis of the needle, there was
a hole through which one could pass a grain of corn.
The instruments at Havre were unaffected. The
needle remained as usual, also the dial, screws, and
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 237
One of our correspondents has sent me the following
very interesting communication :
"On June 26, 1901, having rang up at the
central telephone-office at St. Pierre, Martinique, a
harsh noise was heard, which was almost immediately
succeeded by the appearance of a ball of fire, having
an apparent diameter of twenty centimetres, and the
brilliancy of an electric light of twenty candle power.
This, voluminous globe followed the telephone wire
towards the instrument. Arrived near the receiver,
it burst with a terrific explosion. The witness of this
phenomenon felt a severe shock, and dizziness. Re-
covered from his stupefaction, he noted the following-
facts: the telephone apparatus was completely burnt,
the relay of Morse's installation was slightly damaged.
The electrical tension must have been enormous,
for the wire of the bobbins was, to a great extent,
This latter effect, however, occurs very frequently.
Not only does the lightning melt and break the
telegraph wires, but it injures the poles which support
These are sometimes broken, split, thrown down,
burst, or splintered, sometimes into threads or shavings.
Poles which have been blasted are often to be seen
alternating with others which are uninjured. Thus,
on the line from Philadelphia to New York, during
238 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
a great storm, every alternate pole up to eight was
broken or thrown down ; the odd numbers were
uninjured. We have mentioned a similar case already.
There are several accounts, too, of lightning in
pursuit of trains.
On June 1, 1903, travellers by train from Carhaix
to Morlaix, between Sorignac and Le Cloistre, saw
lightning follow the train over a course of six kilo-
metres, breaking or splitting several telegraph poles.
This feat has been observed more than once. The
train is escorted by lightning flashes which succeed each
other almost without cessation, and the travellers seem
to be whirled through an ocean of flame.
Lightning rarely strikes the carriages ; only on one
occasion did it actually wreck one, by breaking a wheel.
The mutilated coach, however, continued to hobble
along until the injury was discovered.
Generally the fluid is content to wander about the
rails, to the great terror of the passengers who witness
this display of rather alarming magic. It spreads itself
over masses of iron, as for instance the roofs and
balconies in Paris, without striking any particular point.
The danger would be greater to a cyclist on a
road. In the suburbs of Brussels, on July 2, 1904, a
cyclist named Jean Ollivier, aged twenty-one years, was
riding during a violent storm, when suddenly he was
struck and killed on the spot.
EFFECTS ON METALS, ETC. 239
We shall end this description of the whims and
caprices of lightning by a notice of the blasting of
a German military balloon. It happened in June,
1902. The aeronaut, whose car was steered by a sub-
lieutenant, was held captive, and soared at a height of
about 500 metres above the fortifications at Lechfeld,
near Ingolstadt. All at once the aerial skiff was
touched by an electric spark, caught fire, and began
to descend, slowly at first, then swiftly. The aeronaut
had the good luck to get off with a broken thigh. The
five assistants, who worked the windlass and the tele-
phone, also received shocks transmitted through the
metal wires of the cable. They fell unconscious, but
were quickly restored. This phenomenon, which is
excessively rare, fittingly closes this odd collection of
stories, fantastically illustrated by lightning.
A communication from Berlin also mentions that
the captive balloon of the battalion of aeronauts was
struck by lightning on the exercise ground at Senne.
Two under-officers and a private were wounded by the
UNTIL comparatively recent times, as we have seen,
all that was known about thunderstorms was that
they occurred pretty well all over the world, and
generally in either spring or summer.
While efforts were being made on our old continent
to establish by long and ingenious dissertations the
exact degrees of relationship between lightning and the
sparks given out by machines, in America practical
experiments were being set about towards solving the
problems of electricity.
Franklin it was who hit upon the idea of extracting
electricity from the clouds for the purpose of investi-
This man of immortal genius, who by his achieve-
ments in science, his noble character, and his devotion
to his country, has won the admiration and gratitude
of posterity, was of humble origin.
The son of a soap manufacturer in a small way of
business, Benjamin Franklin was born at Boston in
LIGHTNING CONDUCTORS 241
1706. His parents had intended him to go in for
science. He was successively an apprentice to a candle
manufacturer, a journeyman printer, the head of a big
printing firm in Philadelphia, deputy to Congress, an
ambassador, and finally President of the Assembly of
the States of Pennsylvania. His political record was a
great one. No one ever rendered greater services to
his country than the diplomatist who signed the peace
of 1783, and insured the independence of the United
It was towards the age of forty that Franklin began
his study of electricity. Here is his own account of
the memorable experiments to which he owed the
greater part of his immense fame :
" In 1746 I met at Boston a certain Dr. Spence,
who came from Scotland. He performed some electrical
experiments before me. They were not very perfect,
as he was not a man of great ability ; but as the subject
was new to me they surprised me and interested me in
an equal degree. Shortly after my return to Phila-
delphia, our librarian received as a gift from Pierre
Collinson, a member of the Royal Society of London,
a tube of glass, together with certain written instruc-
tions as to the way in which it should be used for
experiments. I seized eagerly on the chance of repro-
ducing what I had seen done at Boston, and with
practice I acquired a great facility in performing the
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
experiments indicated to us from England and in de-
vising other ones. I say ' with practice,' because many
people came to my house to witness these marvels.'"
After making several discoveries in regard to elec-
tricity, Franklin took it into his head to extract the
fluid direct from the clouds. He had established
the fact that a stem of pointed metal, placed at a
great height on the summit of a building, for in-
stance served as an attraction to lightning and guided
it into the way prepared for it. He had been looking
eagerly to the erection of a clock-tower which was
being built at this time at Philadelphia ; but, tired of
waiting and anxious to carry out experiments which
should solve all doubts, he had recourse to a more
expeditious instrument, and one, as events proved, not
less efficacious, for getting into touch with the region
of thunder a kite such as children play with.
He prepared two sticks in the form of a cross, with
a silk handkerchief stretched upon them, and with a
string attached of suitable length, and set forth on his
mission the first time there was a storm. He was
accompanied only by his son. Fearing the ridicule that
is showered upon failure, he did not take any one else
into his confidence. The kite was set flying. A cloud
which looked promising passed without result. Others
followed, and the excitement with which they were
awaited can be imagined.
LIGHTNING CONDUCTORS 243
At first there was no spark and no sign of elec-
tricity. Presently some filaments of the string began to
move, as though they had been pushed out, and a slight
rustling could be heard. Franklin now touched the end
of the string with his finger, and instantly a spark was
given out, followed quickly by others. Thus for the
first time the genius of man may be said to have come
to grips with lightning, and begun to learn the secret
of its existence.
This experiment took place in June, 1752, and
made an immense sensation throughout the world, and
was repeated in other countries, always with the same
A French magistrate, named de Romas, making
use of Franklin's idea as soon as it was known in
France, took it into his head to use a kite with raised
cross-bars, and in June, 1753, before the full results of
Franklin's experiments were made public, secured still
more remarkable signs of electricity, having inserted a
thread of metal throughout the whole length of the
string, which was 260 metres. Later, in 1757, de Romas
repeating his experiments during a storm, secured sparks
of a surprising size. " Imagine before you," he said,
" lances of fire nine or ten feet in length and an inch
thick, and making as much noise as pistol shots. In
less than an hour I had certainly thirty lances of this
length, without reckoning a thousand shorter ones of
244 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
seven feet and under." Numbers of people, ladies
among them, were present at these experiments. They
were not without danger, as may be imagined; de
Romas was once knocked over by an unusually heavy
discharge, but without being seriously hurt.
Franklin was the first to turn his experiments to
practical account, attaching lightning-conductors to
public and private buildings for their protection, and
achieving marvellous results ; the lightning being caught
by the metallic stem and following it obediently into
From this time, lightning-conductors came into
almost universal use, and their value was not long
in being generally recognized. Curiously enough,
France, which had been ahead of all other countries
in the study of electricity, was not one of the earliest
to go in for lightning-conductors. There were, indeed,
signs of strong hostility to their introduction. It was
held even that they went against the designs of Provi-
dence. In 1766, the Abbe Poncelet, in his work
entitled " La Nature dans la formation du tonnerre et
la reproduction des etres vivants," in which he sets out
to demonstrate that the force which produces lightning
is the same as that which causes the earth to fructify,
makes a strong protest against the construction of
In 1782, nevertheless, at the reiterated request of
LIGHTNING CONDUCTORS 245
Le Roi, a member of the Academic des Sciences, and
friend and admirer of Franklin, the Louvre was
endowed with the first lightning-conductor put up
on a public building in France. Soon afterwards they
In 1784 the Academic des Sciences drew up the first
set of rules for the construction of lightning-conductors.
It was revised and corrected in 1823, in accordance
with the various improvements that had been introduced
up till then, and it has been further added to in 1854,
1867, and 1903. These instructions point out that the
most important metallic portions of the building should
be placed in communication with the conductor, and
this should sink into a well. Conductors that are not
perfectly constructed are a source of danger, instead
of being a protection, for the electric current is apt,
instead of running down into the earth, to make for
any kind of metallic substance, and cause great havoc.
The conductor ought really to communicate with a
large body of water a body of water of greater extent
than the storm cloud from which the lightning comes.
When the flow is insufficient, the water itself is apt
to become electrically charged. It is dangerous to
bury the conductor in merely damp soil ; first, because
one generally does not know whether there is enough
of this soil ; secondly, because one cannot be sure that
the humidity will be sufficient at times of great drought
246 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
the very times when storms are most to be feared.
Failing a river or great pond, the conductor should
be put into wells issuing or having their source in
inexhaustible supplies of water deep down in the
In his table of statistics showing the number of
cases in which lightning has struck either lightning-
conductors, or buildings, or ships furnished with con-
ductors, Quebelet gives a hundred and sixty-eight
cases in which the conductor has been struck, and in
only twenty-seven instances of these (one-sixth of the
whole) have the conductors, from some grave flaw in
their construction, failed to fulfil their office. These
results are the best proof possible of the efficacy of
conductors, and the best answer to those who decry
The area of protection covered by the conductor is
not so great as is generally supposed. It is limited to
a distance about three or four times the length of the
conductor above the roof. Thus a conductor standing
out five yards will protect an area stretching only about
fifteen or twenty yards away. This depends also to
some extent upon the nature of the place and the
materials of which the house is constructed.
Buildings are often struck by lightning because the
number of conductors has been insufficient for the extent
of the edifice to be protected.
LIGHTNING CONDUCTORS 247
To remedy this defect, conductors are made with
a number of separate stems veritable wire traps in
which to catch the lightning. This system, the
invention of a Belgian physicist, M. Melsens, decreases
considerably the risks of destruction, and is much more
economical than the erection of a number of separate
A conductor of this kind has been installed on the
Hotel de Ville at Brussels, which has been well pro-
tected from lightning ever since, whereas previously
this building had been struck by lightning several
times in spite of the single conductors with which it
was supplied. The metallic trellis is in communication
with the sewers.
The slaughter-houses of La Villette, the Hotel
Evigne", and other buildings in Paris, are provided with
The Eiffel Tower boasts several such multiplex
conductors. It has often been struck by lightning, but
no one who has happened to be up it at the time has
ever suffered any damage therefrom. The lightning
strikes the conductor sometimes from out the actual
cloud curious photographs have been taken of this.
The Eiffel Tower is in itself a gigantic lightning-
Portable conductors have been invented from time
to time silk umbrellas without iron ribs, and clothes
248 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
of indiarubber and such-like ; but they have all been
Without allowing one's self to get lightning, so to
speak, on the brain, it is well to take certain pre-
cautions during a storm.
The first and principal one is not to get under
The second is to give a wide berth to telegraph
posts, so as to avoid contact with the sparks that may
issue from them.
Movements of the air having the effect of preparing
an excellent route for the fluid, it is well not to run in
a storm. It is well also not to ring a bell.
It is well, also, to avoid being in the neighbourhood
of animals, in view of their attraction for lightning.
In houses, doors and windows should be closed in
order to avoid draughts. It is well to keep away from
the chimney, too, as well as from metallic objects.
But lightning always has its caprices. It is this
that makes its study so interesting.
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING
IN this last chapter I would like to group together a
series of instances of pictures made by lightning, some
of them very curious and attributed, it would seem, to
flashes of a special character, which we may perhaps
term Ceraunic Rays, from Keraunos, lightning. These
instances are of great variety, and doubtless admit of
many different explanations. Here, then, is a selection
worth looking into.
In this case, as in so many others, it is extremely
difficult to get at the exact truth.
Generally speaking, it is from the newspapers that
we get the facts more or less accurately observed,
more or less accurately recorded. I have made great
efforts to inform myself personally as to the incidents
whenever this has been practicable.
The Petit Marseillais of June 18, 1896, published
the following :
" A correspondent writes to us from Pertius,
June 17 :
"'In the course of the storm here yesterday, two
250 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
day-labourers of our town, Jean Sasier and Joseph
Elisson, took refuge in a cabin constructed of reeds.
They were standing at the entrance when they were
struck by lightning and thrown violently to the ground.
Elisson, who was not much hurt, soon recovered his
senses and called for help. People ran up at once
and carried the two men to where they live, where all
necessary attention was given to them.
"'Sasier's condition, though serious enough by reason
of a burn on his right side, is not causing anxiety. The
curious part of the incident is the effect the electric
fluid has produced upon Elisson. The lightning cut
open one of his boots and tore his trousers; but
over and above this, like a tattooer making use of
photography, it reproduced admirably on the artisan's
body a representation of a pine tree, of a poplar, and
of the handle of his watch. It is an undoubted case of
photography through opaque materials; most luckily
the sensitive plate Elisson's body merely took the
impression and received no injury.'' 1 ''
On reading this narrative, I wrote to the Mayor of
the Commune of Pertius to ask him for confirmation
of it, and for a photograph, if possible, of the picture
on Elisson's body. By a fortunate circumstance, the
Mayor happened to be the doctor who had attended
the victim. Here is his reply :
" M. Joseph Elisson, of Pertius, aged about
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 251
thirty-eight, was struck by lightning on June 17.
Called to attend to him at about two in the afternoon,
I found some superficial burns forming a trail, which
began near the teat of his left breast, at the level of
his waistcoat pocket, in which there was a watch (which
had not stopped), and went down towards the navel,
then turned boldly to the right towards the iliac
spine and down the outer side of his right leg as
far as the ankle, at the level of which his boot, made
of strong leather, had been split open.
"To the right, a little outside the vertical line
passing the teat, there was imprinted in vivid red the
red of the burn a picture of a tree. The foot of it
was on a level with the edge of the ribs, the top went
slightly above the teat. This picture was absolutely
vertical. Its outlines stood out very distinctly from
the white skin. It was composed of bold, clearly
defined lines, about a demimillimetre in width.
Neither waistcoat nor shirt were burnt or marked in
any way to correspond with it. Other representations
of tree branches were reproduced higher up on the
breast, but not so distinctly in the midst of a uniform
redness. Not having by me my camera, I made a
sketch of the tree, which was marvellously distinct,
leaving the taking of a photograph until next day.
Next day, when I returned with my camera, the picture
was still clearly visible, but it had faded a good deal,
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
lost in the colour of the skin, and no longer to be
reproduced by photography. I regretted bitterly not
having taken it the day before. I regret this all the
more now that you have done me the honour of writing
to me on the subject, and I am glad to be able to
send you my sketch of the picture, which is correct
as to dimensions, and which represents what I saw as
accurately as I could make it.
"DR. G. TOURNATOIBE."
Here is a facsimile of the sketch
enclosed by the doctor.
It is somewhat like the shape of
a poplar. There is nothing to suggest
that we have here a case of swollen
veins, or arteries made conspicuous by
a flow of blood, nor of a tree-like form
due to blood vessels, in which the
blood has taken on a more or less
marked aspect. On the other hand,
it is certainly not much easier to
recognize in it a photograph of a
more or less distant tree. In this
state of uncertainty on the subject, I
wrote again to Dr. Tournatoire, and
begged of him to go to the scene of the incident and
to make a plan of the ground, and take a photograph
of the view. Here is the doctor's reply :
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 253
"This plan can be reproduced by a few typo-
graphical lines in such a way as to show clearly how
"The square represents the cabin in which the
two workmen took refuge. They were sitting almost
opposite each other on the seats marked A and B.
There is a flash of lightning. One of the men is
knocked over, and bears on his right side a picture of
the poplar P, which stands one hundred metres away,
and is visible by A through the door O, of which the
width is one metre. Behind this poplar stands a big
pine, a branch of which is also depicted on the man's
body. By this same stroke of lightning the other
worker, seated at B, is thrown out of the cabin three
metres by an opening D, about forty centimetres wide.
The two men are alive, and have come out of it with a
few days 1 rest. They saw nothing, heard nothing, and
can remember nothing."
In the photographs taken by Dr. Tournatoire it is
not clear which is the tree, for the poplar, P, does not
stand out alone. As the cabin stands under the shade
254 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
of a pine tree, one is disposed to ask whether the
lightning did not strike this pine? But judging by
the position of the trees relatively to the man struck,
the most likely hypothesis is that the electric discharge
came from the point P towards A, and that the poplar
as well as the adjacent pine formed a sort of screen,
and reproduced their reflection by the agency of some
unknown constituent of these Ceraunic Rays, which
enable them to photograph things in this way through
clothes on to the human body.
This assuredly is a more extraordinary effect than
those obtained by the cathodic rays or anti-cathodic
rays, of which science seems equally unable to give any
Let us proceed with our studies. It is impor-
tant above all never to take the newspaper nar-
ratives on trust without verification. In the month
of June, 1897, the following appeared in the news-
" PHOTOGRAPHIC LIGHTNING. A chasseur of the 15th
battalion, in barracks at Remiremont, was struck by
lightning. He was standing upon a mound not far
from a grove of pines, in the midst of ferns. Curious
to relate, on the occasion of recording the fact of the
man's being dead, it was discovered that his body
was covered with punctures imprinted on it by the
lightning, and representing the nature and aspect of
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 255
the branches and plants all round him at the time when
he was struck."
I wrote at once to the chef de bataillon for a precise
confirmation of this, and received the following reply:
" M. le Commandant Joppe, commanding officer of
the 15th Battalion of Chasseurs, has handed me your
letter of June 14th, and asked me to reply to it.
" It is the case that a chasseur of the battalion was
struck by lightning on the afternoon of June 4, but it
is quite untrue that there was found on his body a
photograph of the trees adjoining the spot of the
accident. The man's clothes were not affected in any
way, and the only traces left by the passage of the
lightning, consisted in some slight irregularly shaped
burns on the upper part of the hollow of the right
temple of linear formation, save for one circular burn
measuring from three to four millimetres in diameter,
and depressing the skin into the shape of a saucer.
There was no lesion on the whole surface of the body.
"Surgeon-Major 15th Battalion of Chasseurs."
This reply was covered by a note which ran as
"I thought it desirable that the reply to your
letter of the 14th inst. should be made by the surgeon-
256 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
major of my battalion in order that it might be the
more scientifically accurate and authoritative.
" Chef de bataillon brevete,
" Commanding Officer of the 15th Battalion of the
Chasseurs des Vosges."
Clearly, the student of natural phenomena cannot
take too many precautions. And yet ... an officer
of high rank confided to me recently that "surgeon-
majors hardly ever take the trouble to examine bodies
thoroughly," and that it is possible that in this case
" the examination may have been very superficial." If
this be a general rule, there must have been an exception
here, as also in the fifth case, to which we shall be
coming just now.
The problem is far from being solved, and we can
but seek to study it as set forth in a number of
instances. Here is a third case :
On Sunday, August 23, 1903, a certain number of
riflemen were practising at the Charbonnieres range,
near the village of Le Pont, in the valley of Lalle Joux
(Canton de Vaud, Suisse), five targets out of six were in
use. The targets, distant 300 metres from the firing-
line, are placed to the side of a grove of pines. Between
stretches an undulating rock-strewn meadow-land.
Only the butts are provided with a lightning-conductor,
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 257
and in it are five markers. There are six telephone
wires along- the line qfjlre; they come as far as the
stand and go down to within about 50 centimetres of
the scorers' seats. Each target has its own telephone bell.
The weather was not stormy, though the sky was
somewhat overcast. Firing was going on. At about
3.30 there was a clap of thunder, and lightning struck
the electric wires. In the stand twenty-eight men,
riflemen, scorers, and spectators, are thrown to the
ground in every direction and in every position. Some
are quite inert, apparently dead; others, looking as
though they were asphyxiated, give out a painful
rattling noise from their throats. At the bar, to the
side of the stand, no one felt anything it was not
even noticed that there had been a violent stroke of
lightning. A kilometre away the band, which had
been giving a concert in front of the Hotel de la
Triute on the bridge, continued to play. Presently a
man reaches them with the report that twenty of the
riflemen have been killed. Consternation becomes
general, and relief parties are organized. Fortunately
the damage done was much less than was supposed.
Let us describe the men actually engaged in firing,
and placed in a line, A, B, C, D, and E, their scorers
are behind them.
Let us give our attention, first, to these men and
their scorers. Presently we shall come to the others
258 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
awaiting their turn, then to the spectators, and finally
to the markers at the targets.
The men were firing, either kneeling or lying.
A remained in position, kneeling "like a statue, 1 '
unable to move. He turned right over as soon as he
was touched. Killed.
B had a pine tree depicted on his breast upside
down, its roots indicated by some outlines up at the
top ; the picture was of a brownish rather than a
blueish shade. It was suggested that it resembled a
pine, because of a pine being ten metres away from the
stand, but really it was more like a branch of fern.
C felt hardly anything apart from a certain heavi-
ness in his limbs when picking himself up.
D had some slight burns, which were healed within
two or three days.
E was holding his rifle with the barrel vertically.
He found himself about 2J metres from his position on
the ground, with a stone in his hands; his rifle had
been bent in two below the trigger.
A's scorer held the pear-shaped handle of the
electric bell between his fingers, his elbows upon the
table. Saw nothing, heard nothing. Felt himself
suddenly bent up double, his face buried in the
gravel; lost consciousness while he was being carried
away; when he came to himself again he began to
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 259
ramble in his speech ; his pencil was broken lengthwise
into four pieces. The wire of his bell had been
electrified. By way of wound, he had a picture of a
pine branch on his back ; water issued from it as from
a blister ; there were no traces of blood. The picture
disappeared at the end of two days. For a certain
time the young man had a pain in his loins; he still
limps somewhat; probably what he now suffers from
is sciatic lumbago, the result of partial and temporary
B's scorer had only some insignificant burns.
C's scorer only came to himself twenty minutes later
as the result of artificial respiration. At the moment
of the lightning he was pressing the electric button
with his thumb in order to give the signal, "Change
the target ; " he had a small hole in his thumb. This
burn bled later, and the wound took four weeks to
heal. He had also some burns on his legs.
D's scorer was holding the handle of the bell against
his left cheek, on a level with his eye. The handle,
made of wood, burst. The sight of his left eye is still
affected, being very weak the retina was probably
torn away. The day after the accident, the young
man's face became all inflamed, especially the part
round the eyes. These were quite hidden. This
inflammation, of a bluish tint, is due to the dilation
of the small veins or of the capillaries.
260 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Dr. Yersin, who attended several of the victims,
attributes this dilation to a paralysis of the vasomotor
nerves, " which would also explain the tree-like form of
the pictures seen upon the skin" and the transudation (?)
of water across the small blood-vessels.
E's scorer had time to see the men on his left fall,
in a green or violet 'light. He had heard a general
death-rattle-like chorus, " A666 " then, before he
could make out what was happening, he found himself
driven up against the wall of the stand. He had a
wound under his feet; his thumb torn also, probably
in trying to hold himself up against the wall.
Behind the scorers were a dozen other riflemen and
some spectators. To the left the electric current left
intact the rifles standing on the rack. Quite near this,
a man awaiting his turn fell, clinging on to the neck of
one of his comrades, also struck. Later he found his
purse in the middle of the stand.
In the case of several of the spectators, the burns
were to be found in separate sores. One had his hair
burnt on one spot of about the size of a five franc
piece ; others, who had burns upon their feet and legs,
are under the impression they saw a small blue flame at
the tips of their shoes.
The general feeling was at first merely that of
stupefaction. Terror did not come until afterwards.
"Those who did not lose all consciousness were half
stunned." A young boy was noticed jammed up
against the wall, incapable of moving, but bewailing
his inability to get to his father, who lay dead upon
the ground. Two men took flight without throwing
aside their guns ; another ran as far as the village, and
some hours afterwards he was found asleep in a house
" to which there was nothing to take him." One young
spectator, a stranger to the neighbourhood, was seized
with a partial paralysis of the brain; he could not
keep his balance when walking, and when questioned
he would recite the names of stations on a Swiss
railway. He is better now.
This event will not be soon forgotten in the Joux
valley. But Dr. Yersin's explanation of the Ceraunic
pictures does not seem to me to be justified.
Here is a fourth instance, given me long ago by one
of the most learned physicists of last century, Hoin, of
"I am going to tell you," he wrote to me in July,
1866, " of a stroke of lightning which was very curious
in its effects. It occurred at midday on June 27, at
Bergheim, a village situated to the north of Logelbach
at the foot of the Vosges. It struck two travellers who
had taken refuge under the tree and knocked them over
senseless one of them was lifted to a height of more
than a yard and thrown upon his back. It was thought
they must be dead, but thanks to the attention given
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
to them at once, they were brought to themselves, and
they are now out of danger. But here is the strange
feature of the accident. Both travellers have on their
backs, extending down to their thighs, the imprint, as
though by photography > of the leaves of a lime tree ;
according to the statement of the Mayor, M. Radat,
the most skilful draughtsman could not have done it
better.' 1 ''
Here is a fifth instance which I find among my
records. The incident happened at Chambery, May 29,
In the course of a violent storm, a soldier of the
47th Regiment was struck by lightning underneath a
chestnut tree. In a memorandum drawn up on June
18 by a learned doctor of Chambery, an eyewitness of
the occurrence, the following facts are recorded :
" The man who was killed had been standing in the
centre of a group of eight soldiers, who had their guns
in their hands, without bayonets. Struck in the region
of the heart, he did not succumb for about a quarter of
an hour, after saying a few words. The corpse bore an
oval plate, so to speak, of about 13 to 14 centimetres
in length, by 4 to 5 in width, occupying largely the
precordial region, and presenting the parchment-like
aspect of a vesicatory that had become rapidly dried
up. The clothes were neither torn nor burnt.
" Two hours after his death an examination of the
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 263
body resulted in the discovery of a phenomenon already
recorded by several observers the reproduction of
"On the right shoulder were three bunches of
leaves of a more or less deep reddish violet hue,
reproduced minutely with the most absolute photo-
graphic precision. The first, situated on the lower part
of the inside of the forearm, represented a long branch
of leaves like those of a chestnut tree; the second, which
seemed to be formed by two or three such branches
twisted together, was in the middle of the outside of
the arm ; and the third, in the middle of the shoulder,
larger and rounder, showed only some leaves and small
branches at the top and at the borders, the centre
presenting a red stain diminishing towards the circum-
ference. The body, when dissected, bore no sign of
any interior lesion."
Here is a sixth instance :
In June, 1869, a Trappist was struck by lightning at
the monastery of Scourmant, near Chimay in Belgium.
It was the afternoon, and the monks were busy mowing.
The storm coming along obliged them to seek shelter.
One of them, who was following the mowing machine
worked by two horses, directed it towards an iron-work
enclosure, and knelt down beside this trellis. There
was a terrible thunder-clap, the horses bolted in their
fright, and the monk remained with his face to the
264 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
ground. The others, who saw him fall, ran up to his
assistance, only to find him dead. The medical
attendant of the monastery, sent for at once, dis-
covered on the body two large and deep burns,
identical in shape, and placed symmetrically to each
side of the breast; he pointed out also to those who
were present a white spot under the left armpit,
presenting a very distinct picture of the trunk of a tree
with branches on it.
Out of these six cases, five may be taken as fully
Dr. Lebigne, Mayor of Nibelle (Loiret), published
the following narrative in the Moniteur of September 7,
"On Sunday, September 4, 1864, at about 10.30
a.m., three men were busy gathering pears about 200
metres out of Nibelle, when the pear tree was struck by
lightning, and was distorted from top to bottom in the
form of a screw ; the lightning carried away the bark
and about a centimetre of the wood beneath; then
quitting the tree, it struck the head of one of the
workmen, who was eating some bread at the time, and
killed him, as well as a dog by his side. The head was
burnt behind from top to bottom and was impregnated
with a strong smell of sulphur.
"The two other workmen who were on the tree were
thrown to the ground, and remained for some time
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 265
senseless. When they came to themselves they could
not move their legs. They were taken to their homes,
and it was found that both had been in contact with
the electric fluid. The astonishing thing about them
is, that one of them had the branches and leaves of the
pear tree clearly imprinted on his breast as though by
daguerreotype. The terrible photographer had been
merciful, however, for that evening both the men were
up again and able to walk."
The Comptes rendus of the Academic des Sciences
for the year 1843 (xvi. p. 1328) records that in July,
1841, in the department of Indre-et-Loire, a magistrate
and a miller's boy were struck by lightning in the
vicinity of a poplar. It was found that both of them
had on their breasts stains exactly like the leaves of a
poplar. These marks, in the case of the magistrate,
went away gradually as the blood began to circulate
again. In the case of the boy, who was killed on the
spot, they had faded somewhat by the day after, when
decomposition had begun to set in.
A propos of this case, very similar to those preceding,
Arago recalled the fact that in 1786 Leroy, a member
of the Academic des Sciences, declared that Franklin
had several times told him how a man who was standing
at a door during a storm had seen a tree struck by
lightning opposite him, and that a representation of
this tree was found imprinted upon his breast. Arago
266 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
recalled, too, in this connection a report made to the
old Academy in August 2, 1786, by Bossuet and Leroy,
in which there was question of a man killed by lightning
on May 10, 1585, in the Collegiate School of Riom in
Auvergne; in this case the electric fluid had entered
by the heel and gone out by the head, leaving on the
body singular marks, described in the report. It was
thought that the lightning on its way, through having
forced the blood into all the vessels in the skin, must
have made all the ramifications of these vessels sensitive
to impressions from without. Extraordinary though
this may appear, they go on to say, it is not new;
Pere Beccaria cites a similar case ; and Franklin's case
is cited here also as analogous. Besile, the author of
the record of the Riom case, " did not hesitate," he tells
us, " to attribute the effect to an eruption of the blood
in the vessels of the skin, producing a result similar to
that of an injection.' 1 The statement in the Comptes
rendus is entitled " Strange appearance of Ecchymoses
formed by lightning upon the skin of two persons."
That is just the question. Was there in these
pictures nothing but ecchymoses infiltrations of the
blood into the cellular tissue? Perhaps that may be
so in some cases, but not in all. Photography, the
photo-electric pictures produced in the laboratories of
physicists, Moses's figures (?), the Lichtenberg flowers,
cathodic rays, Rontgen rays, radiography all these
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 267
things open new horizons for us. And even if we do
not find any explanation satisfactory, we should not be
justified in accepting the first offered to us as being so,
if in fact it be not.
Here are four interesting cases recorded by Poey
in his "Relation Historique des images photo-elec-
triques de la foudre."
Mme. Morosa, of Lugano, seated near a window
during a storm, experienced a shock from which she is
not stated to have suffered any ill effects ; but a flower,
which had stood in the route of the electric current,
was found perfectly drawn on her leg, and this picture
lasted the rest of her days.
In August, 1853, a young girl in the United States
of America was standing at a window facing a nut
tree at the moment of a dazzling flash of lightning ; a
complete picture of the tree was reproduced on her
In September, 1857, a peasant woman of Seine-et-
Marne, who was minding a cow, was struck by light-
ning under a tree. The cow was killed, and the woman
was thrown on the ground insensible. She was, how-
ever, soon revived. In loosening her clothes to attend
to her, the people who came to her assistance found
perfectly reproduced on her breast a picture of the cow.
On August 16, I860, a mill at Lappion (Aisne),
belonging to M. Carlier, was struck by lightning. On
268 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
the back of a woman of forty-four, who was also
struck, the lightning left a reproduction (of a reddish
hue) of a tree trunk, branches, foliage, and all. Her
clothes bore no trace of the passage of the lightning.
Unless we are to suppose that all these have been
inaccurately observed, it seems to me that we must
admit that there is something else besides ecchymoses,
something else besides the workings of veins and
arteries in these pictures wrought by lightning.
Certain of these tree-like pictures resemble the
patterns we get in photographing electrical discharges
upon sensitized plates. Might they not be produced
by this discharge upon the surface of the body or by
the emission of electricity from the body struck ?
The pictures we shall now hear of, to be dis-
tinguished from those already dealt with, are easier to
explain, and about their genuineness there can be no
In the summer of 1865, a doctor from the neigh-
bourhood of Vienna, Dr. Derendinger, was returning
home by train. On getting out at the station he
found that he had not got his purse on him some one
probably had stolen it.
This purse was made of tortoise-shell, and had on
one side of it a steel plate marked with the doctor's
monogram two D's intermingled.
Some time after, the doctor was called to attend to
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 269
a stranger who had been found lying insensible under
a tree, having been struck by lightning. The first
thing that he noticed on examining the man's body
was that on his thigh there was a reproduction, as
though by photography, of his own monogram. His
astonishment may be imagined. He succeeded in re-
viving the stranger, who was taken to a hospital.
The doctor remarked that in his clothes his lost
tortoise-shell purse would probably be found. So it
proved. The individual struck by lightning was the
thief. The electric fluid had been attracted by the
steel plate, and had imprinted the monogram upon
the man's body.
In this case we are set thinking of electro-metal-
lurgy, all the more because there are a number of other
instances which certainly belong to this category.
Thus, for instance, on July 25, 1868, at Nantes, a
stranger near the Pont de TErdre, on the Quai Fles-
selles, was enveloped by a flash of lightning, but pro-
ceeded on his way without experiencing any ill effects.
He had on him a purse containing two pieces of silver
in one compartment and a ten-franc piece in gold in
another. On taking out his purse he found that a
coating of silver taken from one of the silver pieces
a franc had been transferred to both sides of the ten-
franc piece. The franc, slightly thinner, especially
over the moustache of Napoleon III., was in parts
270 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
slightly bluish. This transference of the silver on to
gold was made through the skin of the partition of the
compartments ! *
Another case. In Gilbert's " Annalen der Physik "
(1817) we read that a flash of lightning struck the
tower of a chapel near Dresden and took the gilt off
the framework of the clock and transferred it to the
leaden runs of the window-panes in such a way as to
leave no sign of how these had been gilded.
In these cases the analogy with galvano electro-
metallurgy is evident. But in the earlier cases this
was not so ; the trees contained no metallic element.
It was not a case of transference. They seem to have
been photographed by the ceraunic rays.
On October 9, 1836, a young man was killed by
lightning. The corpse bore in the middle of the right
shoulder six rings of flesh-colour, which seemed the
more distinct in that 'the rest of the man's own skin
was very dark. These rings, overlapping each other,
were of different sizes, corresponding exactly with those
of the gold coins which he had on him on the right
side of his belt, as the public official who examined his
body and all the witnesses were able to testify.
This makes us think of radiography.
A correspondent of Poey, the astronomer, told him
that he had known a Trinidad lady who had been
* Academic des Sciences, Aout 3, 1868.
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 271
struck by lightning in her youth and on whose stomach
the lightning had imprinted a metallic comb which she
carried in her apron.
In these instances there was some kind of contact
of the objects with the persons struck. Here are others
in which the objects reproduced are further removed,
but still of metallic substance and still reminding us
therefore of electro-metallurgy.
In September, 1825, the brigantine Le Buon-Servo,
at anchor in the Bay of Armiro, was struck by light-
ning. A sailor seated at the foot of the mizzen-mast
was killed. On his back was found a light yellow and
black mark, beginning at his neck and going down to
his loins, where there was discovered an exact repro-
duction, in facsimile, of a horseshoe nailed to the mast.
The mizzen-mast of another brigantine was struck
by lightning in the roadstead of Zaube. Under the
left breast of a sailor who was killed was found im-
printed the number 44, which his mates all declared
was not there before. These two figures, large and
well formed, with a full stop between them, were
identical with the same numbers in metal affixed to the
rigging of the ship, and placed between the mast and
the sailor's bunk, in which he was lying asleep when
May it not have been a tattoo-mark in spite of
what his companions declared ?
272 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
M. Jose Maria Dau, of Havana, records that in
1838, in the province of Candaleria, in Cuba, there was
found on the right ear and on the right side of the
neck of a young man struck by lightning, the repro-
duction of a horseshoe, which had been nailed up at a
short distance from him against a window.
These various records lead us to the reflection :
first, that ceraunography should form a new branch
of physics, well meriting study ; secondly, that the
facts set forth are sufficiently inverse in their nature to
show us that we have before us several quite distinct
specimens of phenomena.
However, these matters have been a subject for
study long before our day.
A priest, P. Lamy, of the Congregation of Saint
Maur, published in 1696 an excellent little work,* in-
formed by the most lucid common sense upon the
curious effects of lightning then a text for the most
superstitious commentaries. Voltaire could not have
reasoned the thing out better. He deals with two very
extraordinary cases among others.
The first had for scene the Abbey of Saint Medard,
at Soissons, on April 26, 1676. A flash of lightning
struck the tower of the abbey, went into the clock,
penetrated a wall eight feet thick, by a hole conducting
* " Conjectures physiques sur les plus extraordinaires effeta du
Tonnerre." Paris, MDCXCVI.
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 273
an iron rod a Taiguille de cadran, detached two planks,
four feet high, and threw them to the extreme end of
the dormitory, followed a brass wire stretched along the
whole length of the wall, setting fire to it and spreading
it out like a ribbon painted to represent a furrow of
flames. Here is the author's own description :
"The most surprising effect, and one which has
aroused the curiosity of an immense number of people,
is a kind of frieze of all kinds of colours extending
along the wall of the dormitory and just above the
"The depth of this frieze is about two feet; its
length is almost equal to that of the dormitory ; the
designs upon it are of flames darting up and down from
a kind of wide band which occupies the centre of the
frieze throughout its length.
" I have had a portion of this frieze copied, so as
to give the reader an idea of it, but it must be admitted
that it is difficult to suggest the variety of miances in
the original. Some people declare that in the midst of
all the colour's in the flames, faces of men may be
descried as well as of marmosets and demons ; but those
who are less richly endowed with imagination can see
nothing of all this."
On p. 274 is a copy of the design by P. Lamy.
At this period, physicists were of the belief that
lightning was " an exhalation of nitre and sulphur,
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
acting something after the fashion of powder, and able
to burn up or throw over everything encountered on its
route. In this girdle traced by the lightning, the
author sees a scattering of all the constituents of the
brass wire, transformed into all kinds of colours due to
the dilation of the copper, melted and vaporized over
the width of "two feet, the colours, in which yellow
predominates, varying according to the thickness and
the inequalities of the "projection."
The second case examined into by P. Lamy, was
that of what happened in the church of Sauveur at
Lagny, when it was struck by lightning on July 18,
1689. This is one of the most astounding in the entire
history of the subject. Let us see what our author has
to tell us :
"If we were to look for some excuse for the strange-
ness and diversity of the people's sayings and doings in
connection with the Lagny case of lightning, we should
assuredly find it in the extraordinary nature of the case
" For what would naturally be the effect upon minds
accustomed to see mysteries in the most transparently
natural events, minds whose philosophy never goes
beyond the senses, when they learn
" 1. That the lightning had not only descended
upon the clock-tower of the church, and carried off the
slates from its roof, but had struck and overthrown
nearly fifty persons inside the edifice, and wrought great
havoc on the high altar.
" 2. That it knocked over and broke the pedestal on
which the figure of Christ was raised to the level of the
altar-screen, though this figure remained miraculously
suspended in the same place for this is what is
"3. That it carried off the curtain covering the
panels of the altar and threw it to the ground without
breaking or melting any of its rings, which were made
only of copper, and without displacing the rod above
the ring-bolts on which they hung.
" 4. That it upset the oil-lamp burning before the
" 5. That it broke into two pieces the stone upon
which the priest consecrates the Host.
" 6. That it tore into four pieces the card on which
the canon of the Mass was printed.
276 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
" 7. That it tore the altar-cloth and the cloth which
was over it both of them in an extraordinary way,
namely, in the form of a cross of St. Anthony.
" 8. That the high altar was seen to be burning.
" 9. That it burnt a part of the communion-cloth
and of the tabernacle, upon which it formed several
" 10. Finally that it imprinted upon the altar-
cloth the sacred words of the consecration, beginning
with Qui pridie quam pateretur, and going down to
Hcec quotiescumque feceretis in mei memoriam facietw,
inclusive; only omitting those which are usually set
forth in special characters, namely, Hoc est Corpus
meum , et Hie est Sanguis meus.
" What, I repeat, can you expect unphilosophical
minds to make of so astonishing an affair as this ?
How account for the choice, the discernment, and the
mysterious preference for some words over others.
Which shall we consider the privileged words those
taken or those left ? What is one to think of the
extraordinary way in which the figure of the Saviour
was left hanging ? And of that strange imprint of the
cross ? How resist all the thousand delusions and
uncertainties and fears the entire thing calls forth ?
" I wonder whether the unfortunate Balthasar, when
his eyes beheld the terrible sight of the unknown hand
inscribing upon the walls of his banqueting-room the
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 277
announcement of his doom, can have been a prey to a
greater variety of fears and tremors than those who
witnessed or who even heard of the effects of the
lightning at Lagny. For no doubt was felt that they
were the outcome of supernatural forces spirits alone
could have worked these marvels ; it was a question
only whether they were the work of evil spirits or good.
Some believed them to be the work of good spirits,
deducing this from the omission of the words, Hoc est
Corpus, etc., which they set down to a spirit of rever-
ence for the sacred mystery.
" Others believed them to be the work of evil spirits,
but here again there were different theories. Some
held that bad spirits had perpetrated these things out
of sheer wickedness, wilfully profaning the holy objects
and suppressing out of contempt, or some other evil
design, the words so essential to the mystery; others
held that mere imps had been at work, actuated more
by mischief than sinfulness, and wishing only to give
amusement to themselves and others by the quaintness
of their pranks. I myself do not share any of those
Lamy's narrative proceeds to an examination of all
the effects recorded, which he explains in the simplest
way in the world, without having to have recourse to
any occult causes. He comes, finally, to the last of
all and the most extraordinary.
278 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
" Not wishing to put trust in anything but my own
eyes, I went to the church myself, and the effects of the
lightning I saw there repaid me for the trouble.
" I examined carefully the new imprint on the cloth.
I found it very clear and fine, the letters well finished,
but the ink a little indistinct, perhaps I should say
faded. As M. le Cure de Saint-Sauveur (who was
kind enough to show me everything) assured me that
at the moment of the lightning the three-leaved card
which contains the canon of the Mass lay between the
altar-cloth and the small mat upon the stone on which
the consecration takes place, folded in such a way that
the printed side was next to the altar-cloth, I compared
the characters printed by the lightning with the
original lettering, and found that they corresponded
exactly, except that they went from right to left, back-
wards, so that they had to be read with the help of a
mirror, or else through the cloth from behind.
" I observed that the words which the lightning had
not printed on the cloth, but had omitted, were done in
red letters on the card, and were no more favoured nor
ill-used than certain other marks without any signi-
ficance also printed in red upon the card, and leaving
no trace upon the altar-cloth. 11
The author proceeds to explain the so-called
mystery, ascribing it to the difference between the
two inks the thick black ink and the thin red ink.
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 279
He examines also into the other phenomena, explaining
them in the same way, like the sagacious and enlightened
observer he was. It is clear, then, that the study
of the phenomena of lightning is no new thing, and
that it has been followed conscientiously for many
In the case of the canon of the Mass printed by the
lightning at Lagny, the reproduction was by contact
and pressure it was not a case of reproducing distant
objects as though by photography. Here is another
case hardly less remarkable. The narrative is from
the pen of Isaac Casaubon, in his Adversaria :
"On a summer's day, about 1595, while divine
service was in progress in the Cathedral at Wells,
two or three thunder-claps were heard, of so terrible
a nature that the whole congregation threw themselves
down on the ground. Lightning followed at once, but
no one was hurt. The astonishing thing about the
affair lies in the fact that crosses were afterwards
found to have been imprinted upon the bodies of
some of those present at the service. The Bishop of
Wells assured the Bishop of Ely that his wife told
him she had a cross thus imprinted upon her; and
that on his being incredulous, she had shown it to
him, and that he himself found afterwards that he,
too, was thus adorned on his arm, if I remember
right. Some had it on their breast, some on their
280 THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
shoulders. It is from the Bishop of Ely I have these
facts, which he tells me are well authenticated."
What shall we say now of the photographing of a
landscape on the inside of the skin of sheep which had
been struck by lightning? The record of this seems
In 1812, near the village of Combe-Hay, four miles
from Bath, there was a wood composed largely of oaks
and nut trees. In the middle of it was a field, about
fifty yards long, in which six sheep were struck dead by
lightning. When skinned, there was discovered on
them, on the inside of the skin, a facsimile of part
of the adjacent landscape. These skins were exhibited
This record was communicated by James Shaw to
the Meteorological Society of London at its session of
March, 1857. Here are his own words :
" I may add that the small field and its surrounding
wood were familiar to me and my schoolmates, and that
when the skins were shown to us we at once identified
the local scenery so wonderfully represented.""
Andres Poey tells us of these other curious cases :
In the province of Sibacoa, Cuba, in August, 1828,
lightning imprinted on the trunk of a big tree a picture
of a bent nail, which was to be found, bent in the
opposite direction, embedded in one of the upper
PICTURES MADE BY LIGHTNING 281
On July 24, 1852, in a plantation at St. Vincent
in Cuba, a palm tree was struck by lightning, and
engraved on its dried leaves was a picture of pine trees
which surrounded it at a distance of nearly 400 yards.
Dr. Sestier tells us that after the 1850 meeting of
the American Association, a person was killed by
lightning while standing up near a whitewashed
wall, and that his silhouette was fixed upon the
wall in a dark colour.
With such facts before us, we seem bound to believe
in the existence of some kind of especial rays, ceraunic
rays, emitted by lightning, and capable of photograph-
ing alike on the skin of human beings, animals, and
plants, more or less distinct pictures of objects far and
Decidedly, we have much to learn in this as well as
in all the other branches of knowledge.
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